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One hull of an idea

CONCRETE ENGINEERING - A community of houses in Holland built to float like ships could provide the answer to the problem of flooding in the UK.

An estimated 27% of the UK is now thought to be prone to flooding.

Couple this with the prospect of climate change leading to more severe storms and rising sea levels, and the importance of designing new ways of dealing with floods becomes clear.

Currently about 200,000 new homes are being planned for high risk flood areas, 120,000 of which are in the Thames Gateway area.

So how can they be protected from disaster? Dutch contractor Dura Vermeer and designer Factor Architecten believe they have a solution.

They have built 46 houses on the wet side of a 3.6m high dyke near the village of Maasbommel, near the German border. These houses are designed to float.

As Europe's most densely populated country, the pressure for new homes in Holland is considerable. Two thirds of its inhabitants live below sea level or on low lying land reclaimed from the sea.

Dykes are constructed to protect some of these areas. But following major flooding in 1993 and 1995, the Dutch government adopted a new approach to flood management and cancelled planning permission for any new development in flood prone areas. It also designated specific flood-overflow areas to allow floodwater to spill out where it could do minimum harm.

As a result, land that was previously designated for housing was offi cially removed from development consideration.

This resulted in some innovative thinking to work around the new laws and the reality of the flood threat.

Factor Architecten saw the opportunity to develop the floating house concept as a way of building more homes without having to pay a premium for the limited high ground available.

Each two-storey home is built on a 70t watertight concrete box - or hull - which floats and is located by a pair of 5.5m poles when the floodwaters come.

Flexible pipes house the building services and utilities.

The concrete box also provides extra living and storage space.

The weight of the concrete provides a low centre of gravity to stabilise the houses as they rise with the floodwaters. As the floodwaters subside, so the houses return back to their original position.

Dura Vermeer is now designing a 'floating city' for 12,000 people near Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, which could include floating schools, hospitals and shops.

Construction is planned to start in 2010.

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