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Doug Krizner: The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. And among the most threatened by global warming. Nearly two-thirds of the people there live below sea level. The ground is kept dry using pumps and dikes But water levels are rising. Now, some Dutch are going with the flow.
For this installment of our series PLAN B, we’re in the town of Maasbommel. Marketplace’s Rico Gagliano steps aboard an amphibious house.
RICO GAGLIANO: Property Manager Adri Van Ooijen runs a lakeside water recreation area in Maasbommel. It’s great for boating and swimming. But it’s becoming better-known for 46 pastel-colored vacation houses built by the Dutch company Dura Vermeer.
GAGLIANO: You want to tell me where we’re going?
VAN OOIJEN: We’re going to the new house, the house who can swim.
GAGLIANO: They’re going to swim?
VAN OOIJEN: Yes, yes.
In other words, they float. If the Maas river floods, the lakeside houses can rise as high as 18 feet, sliding up and down around iron pillars driven deep into the ground.
VAN OOIJEN: It’s an experiment to build in an area where the water can go very high, so they are floating. Only some cables — for the electricity, the gas — is connected to the land.
An amphibious house is nothing like the tiny houseboats found on Amsterdam’s canals. For one thing, it’s got 1,300 square feet of space. This one, owned by a woman named Astrid, has a manicured lawn, a little driveway…
GAGLIANO: I take it the dog does not like me?
All the comforts of suburbia. And inside we’re talking three bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom.
GAGLIANO: If I go downstairs, it’s not gonna look like a boat?
ASTRID: It is a house, not a boat!
It’s sure priced like a house — over $300,000 to build, $440,000 to buy, as much as $1,700 a week to rent. But the floating homes of the future could be cheaper.
WIM VERKERK: At a certain time, it will be prefabricated more and more, and then the prices go down.
That’s Wim Verkerk of Advin, the company that helped Dura Vermeer engineer its amphibious housing. He says the technology could bring in a tidal wave of cash. With space at a premium in the tiny Netherlands, Dutch developers would love to build on water. The rest of the world is interested, too.
VERKERK: There are several places where big cities are built next to the rivers, and most of the times you have some fluctuation of the water level almost everywhere.
Dura Vermeer just landed a contract to build a floating house on the Thames river in London. Taiwan commissioned a study for typhoon-proof restaurants and galleries in a harbor. And other Dutch architects are getting their feet wet: a firm called “Waterstudio” is designing a floating mosque for Dubai. But Verkerk worries the general public still thinks it’s all a novelty, not the future.
VERKERK: A lot of people do a bit of laughing about it. It’s the same reaction like Noah building the arch.
GAGLIANO: The ark?
VERKERK: Yes, the ark. Everybody laughed and said, “Noah, you’re foolish.” And that’s the same as what’s happening now. People laugh until something happens, and then they realize, “Well, well, well.”
In the Netherlands, I’m Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.
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