Project Management Institute

High Tide

Teams are out to scale floating construction

the Edge



—The world’s first floating farm in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Flooding from rising sea levels could cost US$14 trillion annually by 2100.

Source: National Oceanography Centre

Water levels are rising globally—a trend that could affect 570 cities and 800 million people by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum. Most of the projects aimed at fighting back against water’s encroachment have focused on building systems designed to hold water at bay. In the Houston, Texas, USA area, for example—ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017—engineers are working on a proposed megaproject to create a tunnel that would improve the area’s resilience in the event of another flood.

That sort of thinking is old hat in the Netherlands, where water management has been a way of life for hundreds of years. Now the Dutch are trying something different—floating structures that are one with water.

“We have faced the water for many years, and now we embrace the water instead of facing it— that’s why we are looking into what we call climate adaptive buildings,” says Peter van Wingerden, an engineer and CEO of Floating Farm, a company in Rotterdam that last year opened the world’s first floating farm—a dairy production confinement with 32 cattle resting on one of the city’s ports.

The farm gets its power from a floating solar array and features a robotic milking system. The cows are able to graze on the structure or can cross a narrow bridge to graze on nearby land.

Floating Farm is working with several Asian countries to build additional such farms. The COVID-19 pandemic forced van Wingerden to postpone project plans to build one in China in 2020. Instead, he opted to build the second floating farm near the first, in Rotterdam. The new farm will add wind power to its energy mix thanks to floating windmills.

Sink or Swim

Floating construction projects introduce new challenges for teams—particularly the need to solve logistics problems, says van Wingerden. How will the team transport materials to the project site? What sort of safety protocols will be created to ensure tools (or team members) don’t fall into the water? How many boats will be needed during construction? “And every morning when you get here, the building is in a different place—a meter higher or a meter lower due to the tide,” he says.


—A floating farm in Rotterdam



—The Schoonschip floating residential development under construction in Amsterdam

Architects, designers, engineers and project leaders around the world are finding answers and adopting innovative solutions, ranging from a floating rocket-launching spaceport near Haiyang, China to a new floating Apple store in Singapore.

But the Netherlands remains the leader in floating architecture, and studios there are imagining structures that cover a broad spectrum of industries and applications. Rotterdam architecture firm Goldsmith, which designed the floating dairy farm, has also partnered with van Wingerden on a poultry farm that will produce eggs and crops. A second Dutch firm, Powerhouse Company, is building a floating office building for the Global Center on Adaptation. And a third Dutch firm, Waterstudio. NL, has designed a floating office building that it plans to build in Rotterdam using a sustainable material: cross-laminated timber.

Water World

Waterstudio.NL is also working on several floating residential projects to solve overcrowding in urban areas.

One project under construction in Amsterdam is the Schoonschip floating residential development, a multi-structure space that will accommodate 46 households. On the luxury end of the market, Waterstudio.NL partnered on a floating villa in 2019 for the Arkup 75 project in Miami, Florida, USA. That structure can achieve house-like stability (and insulation from rising sea levels) when elevated on its hydraulic pilings and is also capable of sailing like a yacht when the pilings are withdrawn.

As project teams gain familiarity with the challenges of building floating structures over the next few years, van Wingerden expects his industry to reach a scalability turning point by developing modular construction methods.

“Water everywhere is the same, so you can easily scale up—you can easily replicate the projects anywhere in the world,” he says.


—Peter van Wingerden, Floating Farm, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

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