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Aquatecture – Blue Water Thinking

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Footprint sails with Baca Architects


Canting Basin project, Glasgow

Baca Architects hosted an event on their Aquatecture concept during GreenSkyThinking week. In light of recent news regarding the unprecedented small ice cap surface (on the BBC), the subject of living with and around water was very topical and will only become more pressing and urgent in the future. Around 50 architecture, engineering, and planning professionals attending the water-themed talk and were greeted by ‘captains’ Robert Barker and Richard Coutts at their new White Post Quay building on the Hertford Canal.


The White Post Lane project


BACA Architects presenting during GreenSkyThinking week

In keeping with the theme of the evening, the event flowed through several interconnected sections: a presentation of some of Baca’s current work, a snappy water-related quiz engaging the audience, talks by guest speakers, and finally a Q&A. The symposium examined how the role of water in cities is changing and the role it can play in shaping our built environment in the future, in response to ‘the need, threat, benefit and pleasure’ that can be found in water.

Robert started by introducing some key facts about living near water and the sensitive balance between flood and drought problems before sharing some current work. Under the title Make space for Water, Robert presented their LifE concept of integrated spatial planning. This strategically evaluates buildings on three levels: normal, resilient to water flooding, and floating. Robert explained, ‘we don’t need to hide water, but make it part of the space’.

Proposals for the South Docks of Liverpool were also shown. The development of the Liverpool Docks is currently under government scrutiny. Richard explained their approach to the development of the docks, based on careful activities zoning and of treating water areas as exterior rooms. They aim to use and expand on the existing traditions regarding the use of water.


Liverpool South Docks


Liverpool South Docks



Liverpool South Docks

Baca’s Amphibious House was also presented. Instead of raising the house on stilts, an option which makes the space below hard to use, the amphibious project allows the water to flood a specially designed cavity around the foundations. This raises the entire house in times of flooding and enables it to float. The project is now awaiting planning permission. Robert stressed the fact that this concept is not a novelty; similar ideas have been tried and tested elsewhere around the world. The idea provides design flexibility and is a response to the need to adapt to climate change.


BACA Architects’ Amphibious House - normal position


BACA Architects’ Amphibious House - flooded position

The evening continued with three guest speakers:

Samantha Heath from London Sustainable Exchange briefly commented on their vision to promote London as the most sustainable city, by facing the challenges related to: drought, flooding and urban heat island effects.

Kevin Reid, senior strategist at the GLA, explained initiatives to make use of London’s existing waterways, either for transport or leisure, through the restoration of rivers (such as the river Lea through the Olympic Park), or forgotten rivers with rich history (like the River Moselle). He also mentioned the need to keep a balance between ‘too much , or too little’, referring to dry winters, or extremely wet summers, leading to alternating drought and flooding periods.

Marnix de Vriend from Aquae offered a different approach to the subject by appealing to architects for the need for modesty in architecture and to ‘touch the hearts of the people who live near the water’ in order to engage them in any developments of river or sea fronts. He continued with several stories related to traditional living on the water edge in the Amazon, or his Netherlands homeland, focusing on local traditions.  He concluded with a beautiful expression about understanding this powerful natural element: ‘being able to kiss the water’.

A short quiz followed, engaging the entire audience. We learned that it takes approximately 2.5m of water to float a typical 2-storey house, that out of 100 interviewed people, 90% confessed that in the case of a flood they would run to the Underground, and that the London borough with the highest risk of flooding is Southwark.


The M55 Metro Connection project

The last part of the evening focused around several ideas floated by Baca:

  • Listing the banks of river Thames, to preserve its character
  • ‘Innovation licenses’ for 20 pilot refurbishment and new build schemes which would show innovative developments on floodplains, in inner city urban flood risk sites and on the waterspaces. Baca’s view is that the licences would ‘stimulate wider regeneration in London, establish a technological creativity hub in the UK and provide the opportunity for UK businesses to demonstrate innovation internationally that could be exported to the rest of the world’.
  • The ‘three generation rule’ which would mean allowing for the planning process to cover and adapt over a period of 150-200 years, representing a grandparents-to-grandchildren generation span.

The discussion highlighted the need to explore landscape in order to strengthen its connection with the environment. This would be approached by increasing the absorption capacity of the ground and by planning options for coastal areas so they combine tourism with coastal defence strategies.

The evening offered a lot of food for thought about the future of the natural and built environment, our changing relationship with it, and our need for flexibility and readiness to embrace change. As Baca suggested, we should be prepared to react to ‘the need, threat, benefit and pleasure that can be found from water.’

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