Published: 23 September 2015
The Amphibious House project is a remarkable structure built on an island in the River Thames. During a flood the house can rise up by 2.5 metres, more than enough to cope with most local flood conditions. It remains operational, and can be occupied as soon as the waters recede. Matthew Wells is a Fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers and a Director at engineering firm Techniker. Here he discusses the house and its implications for UK housebuilding.
I have been a structural engineer for 32 years. I trained as an architect, but found that I preferred engineering offices. I was privileged to work for Alan Baxter and Tony Hunt, both of whom are inspirational engineers.
I’m very pleased to see the Amphibious House shortlisted for The Structural Awards, as it demonstrates an adaptive, open-minded approach to design which will be absolutely essential to the way we will build houses in future, in the United Kingdom and around the world.
In the UK, volume house-building remains largely unsustainable in approach, designed predominately to minimise the cost of building, as opposed to reduce the house’s through-life costs - like maintenance and embodied energy levels. Coupled with the increasing threat of flooding to areas which are already densely populated, we really need a change in our housebuilding philosophy in the UK. The environments where we build vary greatly and we need to harness these local idiosyncrasies, rather than sweeping them aside. Further, we need to reward ingenious, sustainable housebuilding designs through tax breaks and other incentives.
The Amphibious House is just one component in the way we build in environments at risk of flood. Responsible development can help reduce flood risk by thinking beyond flood defences. Baca Architects envisage large, holistically planned communities, with low carbon dwellings organised around multifunctional landscapes that help channel and store flood water in a predetermined way. New communities would be made up of flood resilient dwellings located on the highest ground, with amphibious homes located in the transitional zones between development and the natural environment.
Structural engineers have a crucial role to play, as structural efficiency contributes directly to reducing the embodied energy of structures. We must lead the way in celebrating more subtle, well-executed and thoughtful designs through initiatives like The Structural Awards, raising awareness about engineers' essential contribution to developing the more sustainable, adaptable urban environment that future generations will require.
Visit The Structural Awards 2015 website to learn more about the awards.