Articles & Case Studies

Planning permission granted for UK’s first amphibious house

Posted: Wednesday 25th April 2012

­­­An imaginative architectural solution to overcome the threat of flooding was granted planning approval this week. The UK’s first amphibious house has been given the go-ahead and is set to be built on the banks of the River Thames later this year.

An amphibious house is a building that rests on the ground on fixed foundations but, whenever a flood occurs, the entire building rises up in its dock and floats there, buoyed by the floodwater.

The modern 225sqm house – set just 10m from the river’s edge - will replace a dilapidated bungalow with a contemporary family home designed to respond to the uncertainties of future climate change.

Using the latest technology, the design is a major breakthrough for British architects and engineers who have been searching for many years for a solution to mitigate the risk - and damage - of water ingress to homes in flood-prone areas.

The amphibious home, designed by Baca Architects - specialists in waterfront architecture and flood-resilient developments – will be located on an island in the picturesque stretch of the Thames that passes through Marlow, in Buckinghamshire, a site designated as Flood Zone 3b and a Conservation Area.

While the house will be a modern, highly-insulated, low energy building, including large high-performance windows, the architects have ensured that it is also sympathetic to the special area and meets local planning guidelines. The amphibious house will have pitched roofs and a chimney to complement the irregular roofline of neighbouring homes and an overall footprint that is no larger than the existing property.

A carefully laid out garden will act as a natural early warning flood system, with terraces set at different levels designed to flood incrementally and alert the occupants well before the water reaches a threatening level, which the architects call an ‘intuitive landscape’. The lowest terrace will be planted with reeds, another with shrubs and plants, another will be lawn and the highest step will be a patio with access into the dining room. These stepped levels will help to manage run-off from the house as the water begins to subside and also reduce siltation of the dock.

The upper part of the house is a lightweight timber construction that rests on a concrete hull, creating a free-floating pontoon, while the whole house is set between four ‘dolphins’ - permanent vertical guideposts to keep it in place. These guideposts, more normally found on marinas, have been integrated with the design and are a visible feature on the exterior of the building. The modern open plan home will also include water saving and energy saving devices to create a more environmentally friendly building, which combined with its amphibious construction will adapt to future climate change.

Richard Coutts, director of Baca Architects, said; “The planning process obviously took a bit more time than some applications, involving our team in extensive consultations and cooperation with the local authority. From the outset of the design process we sought expert advice from the Environment Agency to determine the most appropriate construction model to mitigate flood risk on the site; and provide a safe dwelling, sympathetic to its setting, and fit for the challenges of the 21st Century. The EA supported our proposal because it was a replacement dwelling so flood risk was reduced on this site.'

Building an amphibious home currently costs around 20% to 25% more than a similar sized house; it’s a price many of the 2007 flood victims might well view as small change for the peace of mind it affords; as well as being a great solution for anyone considering building by water in the future.

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