architecture climate change

Building of the week: Schoonschip

The Netherlands has a unique relationship with the sea. As a low lying country, a third of which is below sea level, it knows more about managing sea levels than most. Climate change presents a particular threat to the Netherlands, and it has some sophisticated techniques for managing rising flood risk. One of them is floating buildings, and a pioneering project in that department is Schoonship.

Launched in 2010 and completed in 2021, Schoonschip is an experimental floating village from the same Amsterdam studio that created the sustainable business hub De Ceuvel, which I wrote about a few years ago. It’s a collaboration between architects, planners and the residents themselves, and it aims to be a climate resilient and sustainable development.

The community has 46 homes, each one unique. Most of them are timber framed, and built on concrete tanks. Each home has a green roof on a third of the roof surface, and solar panels and solar hot water. Heat recovery systems in the drains tap warmth from waste water and prevent the discharge of hot water into the natural environment.

Living on the water also allows the community to draw heat from it. Homes have heat exchangers underwater that contribute to heating – a technology that I’ve written before in the context of using London’s underground rivers for heat.

Each home is connected to a jetty that they share with their neighbours, instead of a street. These also host shared utilities, including waste water treatment.

As well as innovating around floating homes and sustainability, Schoonschip uses participative planning processes and a unusual financing model that keeps it affordable. In some ways these are just as important. Certainly in the UK, there are very few examples of co-financed developments, and it all too often left to the big housing companies. That means the benefits all go to shareholders, exacerbating the inequality created by the housing market. (Lilac is a rare UK example of doing it differently.)

As a pilot project, Schoonschip has documented lessons from the development and made them available on a dedicated open source website. It’s vital to share this kind of learning. There will be more floating homes and communities in future. Knowing how to do it well will avoid expensive mistakes in other locations, and not every community that needs this kind of climate adaptation is going to have the resources that Amsterdam has.

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