The Floating Architecture Movement The New House Boat Movement

In Germany the floating architecture is being actively embraced in city centres as part of an urbanity characterised by diversity.

Hamburg, Eilbekkanal, houseboat Sprenger von der Lippe Architekten Hamburg, Eilbekkanal, houseboat Sprenger von der Lippe Architekten | Photo: Meike Hansen, Archimage Dreamily, poetically and outside of time is how the German film director Helmut Käutner narrates his film, “Under the Bridges” (“Unter den Brücken”, filmed in 1944 and premiered only in 1950). Hannelore Schroth, Gustav Knuth and Carl Raddatz played the leading roles and the young Hildegard Knef appeared in a supporting role. Liese-Lotte, the tugboat’s name, is both home and workplace for Willi and Hendrik, a bit of freedom and independence on the water and soon to be a home for Anna, as well. Again and again, the camera pans to the river, along with gentle waves, sky, reflections, light and shadow that, together with the soft sounds of the water, combine into a profession of love for the city, the Spree and the people with their problems, great and small.

The house boat as a model for bohemians

Many young people in the 60’s and 70’s discovered this feeling of being close to life and yet detached from the world as an alternative form of housing. Not only in Amsterdam and Copenhagen did life on a house boat become a popular goal for a generation opposed to the “Establishment”, or in this case the “Settlement.” In Berlin, Hamburg And Cologne, permanent moorings for barges and inland vessels that have been converted into house boats exist to this day. While the City of Amsterdam is continually shifting these bohemian models and alternatives from the historic city centre to middle-class home living on land, and is building large-scale floating flat and villa complexes in new suburban construction areas such as Ijburg in their stead, in Germany floating architecture is being actively embraced in city centres as part of an urbanity characterised by diversity.

Hamburg’s new housing fleet

IBA Dock Hamburg, Han Slawik IBA Dock Hamburg, Han Slawik | Photo: IBA Hamburg, bloomimages Hamburg is the leading edge of this movement. Starting in 2010, the IBA Dock is moored in the Müggenburger Customs Port as largest floating office building and new business headquarters of the IBA. This three-storey cube of green, blue, black and white cladded steel modules is a design by Han Slawik of Hannover. As early as 2006 and 2007, Jörn Walter, chief building director of the Hanseatic City of Hamburg, had already inaugurated two pilot projects for floating buildings that differed in terms of their approaches. In an investors’ selection procedure in the Hammerbrook district of Hamburg, a total of 15 moorings with two different types of buildings by netzwerkarchitekten and ff-architekten were selected, as a direct continuation of the Berliner Bogen office building by the Berlin architectural firm Bothe Richter Teherani at the Viktoriakai.

Hamburg Eilbekkanal, houseboat Rost Niderehe Architekten Hamburg Eilbekkanal, houseboat Rost Niderehe Architekten | Photo: Amelie Rost Another pilot project is located on the Eilbekkanal, between the districts of Barmbek-Süd and Eilbek, in the immediate vicinity of the University of Fine Arts (Hochschule für Bildende Künste) in Uhlenhorst. A contest in 2007 recommended ten designs for realisation, all by different architects. The first floating houses have already been moored in two sections of the lengthy Uferstrasse; in the heart of the city and yet idyllic and close to nature. Each house has its own house number, a dock with supply lines underneath, but those are the few visible features that they have in common. Each floating construction has an entirely unique character, a different form and different materials.

Functional floor plans, optimal utilisation

Hamburg, Eilbekkanal, houseboat Sprenger von der Lippe Architekten Hamburg, Eilbekkanal, houseboat Sprenger von der Lippe Architekten | Photo: Meike Hansen, Archimage These are buildings for living and working that have been placed on water. Instead of on foundation slabs, they rest on pontoons of steel-reinforced concrete that were build in a shipyard and then transported to the construction and mooring site. As with building plots on land, distances between the sites are regulated as are the floor areas, which cannot exceed six metres in width and twenty metres in length. The floor plans are correspondingly functionally designed, and each room is optimally utilised with built-in furnishings and few fixtures.

Openness, clarity, through flowing spaces

Hamburg Eilbekkanal, houseboat Interior Design Müller Wolff interior Hamburg Eilbekkanal, houseboat Interior Design Müller Wolff interior | Photo: Müller Wolff interior But each and every one of the floating houses could not differ more from the narrow ship’s cabin. Openness, clarity and generosity through flowing spaces and distinctive open surfaces on upper and between decks on the ground storey offer room to feel inwardly and outwardly at one with the water landscape. Here, the steamship motif of the Golden ‘Twenties finally finds a suitable home. The large porthole on the canal side in the interior architect Martin Müller-Wolf’s house also offers a cosily dreamy place to sit. With their Corten steel facade, Sprenger von der Lippe Architects evoke associations with industrial ports, containers and stranded ships’ hulls. With their gallant, curving wood facades, decks and glass surfaces, Rost Niderehe Architects call to mind the villas and commercial buildings of the 1920’s, as does Rolf Zurl of dinsefeestzurl architekten with his clean, sleek and yet dynamic architectural language. But with the exception of the remodelled work and house boat Peißnitz and Hamburg’s ne event venue One-of-One, the maritime house boat model seems to have become more or less obsolete. This silver arrow of the floating house boat fleet has its origins in a design by baubüro.eins and MONO Architekten, and provides space for 120 persons, for conferences, parties or photo shootings.

Boat for Swimming Berlin, AMP arquitectos with Gil Wilk and Susanne Lorenz Boat for Swimming Berlin, AMP arquitectos with Gil Wilk and Susanne Lorenz | Photo: Uwe Walter Floating architectures with event character have also made Berlin a port of call, as in the case of the barge remodelled into a floating pool, following a design by AMP arquitectos together with Gil Wilk and the artist Susanne Lorenz. However, the floating architecture movement is also docking in smaller cities, as well. Additional prototypes are sailing on course in Oldenburg, Kiel and in Lausitz.