Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Netherlands respond to flooding with swimming homes

Deutsche Welle: Dutch architect Koen Olthuis says it's better for a country that's threatened by water to learn how to live with it than fight against it - an approach that is central to his work. The Netherlands are one of the most densely populated yet also flattest countries in Europe. The offices of Olthuis' firm are beneath sea-level, as is about a third of the terrain in the Netherlands. Water must constantly be pumped back into the sea.

"We pump away about as much water daily as Tokyo and its surroundings use in a year - an incredible amount," said Olthuis, who decided to specialize in water architecture. The architect and his team have developed a concept for their country's future: If the Dutch eventually have to allow water to take over some of the nation's coastal land surface, the wet area should be used for houses and apartments.

Areas threatened by flooding account for about five percent of the Netherlands' surface. Currently, they are protected from being overtaken by the sea through the use of dams. Keeping this land dry costs the nation billions annually.

Near The Hague, a joint public and private project called "Het Nieuwe Water" is underway, which foresees building 1,200 new buildings within the next eight to ten years. Some of these are to be floating luxury apartments. At present, though, there is little to be seen in the area - just a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) slushy field occupied by a few homes, greenhouses and a pond.

"First we will build, then we will allow the area to be flooded," explained Paul van Zundert, an engineer, who will ensure that the residents do not encounter any problems once building begins. "That will be the biggest challenge that arises from this new dual approach to using the water."…

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