Amsterdam’s Waterworld

An expert discusses the challenges of creating a major district entirely with floating houses.

About 200 people live in the 91 floating houses of the Waterbuurt, a district in south-eastern Amsterdam. The first two phases of construction are finished; the third and final one is being prepared for the development of another 50 to 72 floating houses. Franco Pantano, the city’s advisor on floating buildings, describes the project’s challenges.

Technologist: Can a large number of people with different cultural and social backgrounds live in a floating residential area?

Franco Pantano: In general, the houses of the Waterbuurt are available for anyone willing to live here. In the current phase, the process of building the jetties and selling the houses will be done by the company with the best plan to do this according to the criteria set. We will start this selection process very soon. There are no restrictions on cultural or social backgrounds, and nor do future residents have to be familiar with living near water.

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T. What are the main technical challenges in building floating houses?

F. P. They’re related to water movement and load. How big are water level movements? How big are the wind waves or the waves from shipping traffic, and from which directions do they come? Another important challenge is providing the houses with basic services like drinking water, evacuation of waste water, electricity and telecommunications. These systems are usually engineered and built for houses on land, so we have to engineer the link between a floating house and the main systems on land. This link is more exposed to changing weather conditions throughout the year than a conventional underground connection. Because the Waterbuurt is a relatively small closed lake, with a surface of approximately eight hectares, we also have to take care of the water quality to guarantee pleasant living in the warm periods.

T. How do you do that?

F. P. A system of primary dykes protects the Waterbuurt against water loads from the larger Lake Markermeer. Two sluices are located in the primary dikes system, enabling regulation of the water level and limiting the necessary bottom level. Because water-level fluctuations are limited, shorter mooring piles can be used. Thus, the mooring system can be realized with just two piles for each house. That is also sufficient to avoid contact between house and jetty, reducing loads on the jetties and resulting in lighter and less expensive construction. In addition, special pipelines have been engineered to have the same advantages as underground connections for the pipes going through the jetties.

Franco Pantano (Technisch Manager primaire waterkering Zeeburgereiland Fase 2 at Ingenieursbureau van de gemeente Amsterdam)