In Brief:

Three adventurers set forth on a mission to study IJburg, a small prototype floating community in the east of Amsterdam that has thrived under an advanced culture of planning, design, procurement and construction. They travelled with the aim of understanding the realisation of IJburg, extracting vital information and inspiration. The team went local for a week, gaining first-hand experience of life in the floating village. They examined the technology, policies and mechanisms behind the neighbourhood, and captured exchanges with residents, financiers, policymakers and architects.

In the UK, the housing shortage is projected to worsen, with escalating land and property prices alienating young buyers. The Dutch Way hopes to address long-term flood strategies and housing need by proposing new floating neighbourhood ‘incubators’ to be tested in London’s Royal Victoria Dock. With this proposal, dRMM presents a provocative case for increasing density in a city that has little space left to build by activating some of its most underused areas – its waterways.

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Why did you want to be part of Venice Takeaway?

Given our belief in curiosity, experimentation and research, we were attracted by the unusual brief for this year’s pavilion – the challenge to ‘be an explorer’. Ever since the time of Elizabeth I’s legitimised pirate Francis Drake, the UK has a produced a long line of successful explorers. We were keen to undertake an expedition by water, taking our fast lightweight Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) to the Netherlands. Through surveying water infrastructure generally, and floating housing in Amsterdam specifically, the treasure we wanted to bring back to the UK was Dutch design knowledge: a globally unique combination of practical hydraulic engineering and lateral strategic thinking alongside the collective will to make modern architecture happen in the public domain.

Where did your idea come from?

For 15 years, making use of London’s vast expanses of empty waterways has been a nascent theme in dRMM’s work – we have made one-off proposals for floating houses, bars, galleries and gardens. The random development of waterside London sites against the backdrop of the underused River Thames has prompted us to think of more ways to inhabit waterscapes, including developing plans for moving our studio into a 60m Dutch barge. We believe UK waterways offer huge potential for tackling housing shortages, transport infrastructure and urban density. Floating architecture also offers answers to the increasingly topical question of what to do with flood zones. Dutch design is a masterclass for fearless engineering in infrastructure and pragmatism in urban planning.

How are research and exploration important to your practice?

They’re invaluable. The endless quest to find new inspiration is what drives creative practice. Research can be a combination of curiosity, conjecture, discovery, cataloguing and experimentation. It’s about being inspired by peers and stealing from thieves. Architects try out new versions of no-doubt old ideas to improve the professional stride of architecture as a whole. What constitutes ‘new’ is dependent on the degree to which precedent and what’s possible next are properly understood. Our studio’s ongoing enquiry into materials, components and construction systems is a continuous project that requires research across programmatic, typological and compositional experiments.


Swan swimming amongst waterhouses, IJburg, Waterbuurt West, Amsterdam
Marlies Rohmer, Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer
Koen Olthuis, NL, aka The Floating Dutchman

Aart, Simone, Ties and Vera, NL, residents of self-built family water house
Water-house living room, IJburg, Amsterdam
Floating basement under construction at ABC Arkenbouw factory, NL

All images: dRMM


Amsterdam/The Netherlands Travel Log

Prof. Alex de Rijke (Architect/Research/Navigation); Isabel Pietri (Architect/Research/Navigation); Merlin Eayrs (Journalist/Research)

London, England

IJburg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Out: direct

Return: via North Sea coast of Holland and Belgium, Strait of Dover

10th to 16th of April 2012

Out: Easyjet London – Amsterdam; Flight EZY8871

Return: Rigid inflatable boat from Amsterdam via North Sea Coast to Zeebruge; bus/tram to Calais; P&O ferry Calais – Dover; train to London Waterloo, dRMM studio

Cameras: Canon 5D MarkII, Canon Vixia, Canon Powershot; Edirol Sound recorder

Aku Aku houseboat, residential houseboat moorings in Chelsea, London; IJburg Floating house, Waterbuurt West – residency in No. 303 for 4 nights; Various IJburg floating houses visited for interviews with residents; Java-eiland Amsterdam canal houses; ABC Arkenbouw, floating houses shipyard; Royal Docks, London

Tom Bouwens, resident of houseboat Aku Aku, Chelsea, London; Sjoerd Soeters, Director, Soeters van Eldonk Architectsp; Marlies Rohmer, Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer; Koen Olthuis, Director, Waterstudio, NL; Willem Visser, Director ABC Arkenbouw Floating Houses Shipyard; Enrico Pacenti, Contractor and resident of self built floating house, IJburg Waterbuurt; Aart Koeman & Simone van de Mortel, residents of self built floating house, IJburg Waterbuurt; Derko-Jan Dollen, SOOH Architects, resident of self built floating house, IJburg Waterbuurt; Mike Luddy, Managing Director, Royal Docks Management Authority, London

Boat’s VHF radio not working; channel crossing abandoned in Zeebruge, Belgium, due to high winds

Floatlands kindly loaned a floating terrace for the exhibition

Find out more:


Recommended Reading:
Float! Building on Water to Combat Urban Congestion and Climate Change by Koen Olthuis and David Keuning
Seven Million Cubic Metres of Sand: Creating IIjburg Phase One 1999-2001 by Aanleg Iljburg

In context: