Auction Talk Germany: April 2009

Water has an undeniable allure. We gravitate toward the tranquil lapping of rivers, lakes and oceans as an escape from our landlocked lives. We imagine strolling the beach footage of our waterfront home or retiring to a tiny cottage by the sea.

But what would it be like to live directly on the water? And not just in a seasonal yacht or houseboat, but in a spacious, sleekly designed, year-round home?

“Since I was a kid, I always dreamed of living on the water, designing a house that would sit directly on the water,” German architect Martin André Förster told Auction Central News.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Förster’s design for a floating events platform was built. He toyed with the idea of placing a house on such a platform, further developing this concept until 2001, when he designed the first “Floating Home.”

Förster got a chance to showcase his dream in glass-and-steel reality during the City of Berlin’s 2002 design competition for “swimming” houses to be built on the Spree River. Förster’s vision won first place, and in so doing, made the Hamburg architectural firm of Martin Förster and Karsten Trabitzsch the new “go-to” address for floating architecture.

“We’ve had inquiries about the Floating Homes from all over the world: London, Singapore, St. Petersburg,” said Förster.

Recent enquiries include the possibility of a floating hotel for the London 2012 Olympics; a floating police station; “swimming” restaurants, theaters, offices and even conference centers.


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“A really great project for us right now is the planning of a floating Children’s House for the parents of severely ill children at a nearby children’s clinic. We are especially happy to be working on that,” noted Förster.

Certainly the serenity provided by gentle motion, a flowing floor plan and expansive water views is calming. Förster, himself, often spends weekends relaxing on his own Floating Home.

“The light motion and the direct contact to water is the big difference that makes a Floating Home special,” said Förster. “The water itself, the changing light and mood, make living on the water unique. And of course in the summer with the windows open, you get the beautiful sound of the water.”

Construction on the water brings with it a unique set of challenges for the architect. How is a structure that can weigh tons made to float on the surface of water?

The surprising secret beneath a Floating Home is its concrete pontoons. Similar to the pontoons on a catamaran sailboat, the steel-reinforced concrete is formed in such a way that it floats, yet makes a stable base for the platform and house built atop it.

Depending on where the house is located, different methods—from anchors to more permanent steel moorings—are used to attach the house to the shoreline. Floating Homes can be placed in oceans, lakes and rivers and even in marshy areas with shallower water levels. A Floating Home can ride out changing tide levels. They have also weathered storms with up to force-12 (74-95 m.p.h.) winds.

“Of course we have to do things a little differently. The pipe for the wastewater from the house, for example, is flexible to compensate for the motion of the house,” said Förster.

There are now 11 different floor plans for Floating Homes, which run from 100 to 300 square meters of living space. They come customized with the buyer’s choice of stepped terraces, rooftop sundecks and boat docking.

“The hardest part,” said Förster, “is getting permission from the local authorities to build one and [for them to] understand what, exactly, a Floating Home is. That’s because the concept is so new and outlandish.”

The exterior construction of a Floating Home is similar to maritime construction. Traditional materials such as Fiberglas, glass and wood are used. The exterior sandwich panels are coated with a skin of aluminum to make them impervious to water.

“But the interior uses normal, breathable building materials just like a regular house,” said Förster.

High ceilings, smoothly finished walls, open stairways, honeyed wood flooring and great expanses of glass rival the most modern of land houses. The stark-lined simplicity makes a Floating Home the perfect frame for its beautiful aquatic surroundings. The house needs no artwork. Its water views are an ever-changing series of paintings.

Insulated window glass and energy efficient materials are used in construction. The warmth exchange can be used for heating; one can live in a Floating Home year-round. The kitchens and bathrooms are compact and well designed. Privacy in this very open house is obtained by using the jalousie blinds or installing normal drapes.

On the outside, a Floating Home does not look like every other house on the block. The B-type house, for example, is perched on a much smaller glass entry room on the first floor. Its second-story living space, a pair of interlocking trapezoids with strip windows that wrap into the roofline, renders a space-age feel. Another design looks like two interlocking flat books; the smallest house is a single trapezoid. The look is 1960s retro, but with a new edge.

“The design is very forward thinking, like Water World,” explained Förster with a chuckle.

If you get tired of your neighborhood, Floating Homes are easily moved. All you need is a tow down river or sea to enjoy an entirely new landscape.


FLOATING HOMES


{rokbox album=|float| title=|B-Type :: The Floating Homes B-Type Model. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHBtype-full.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Picture perfect :: A spectacular view of Citysport Boat Harbor, Hamburg, from the angled living room windows. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHIntView.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Floating Homes :: A rendering of the B-Type Model. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHRend2.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|On the water :: Water reflects brightly off the upper windows of this B-type Floating Home; downstairs the doors to the glass entry are thrown open to the air. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHBSun.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Living room :: Books become colorful artwork on the built-in shelving, while modern furniture in black and gray complement the simple, airy design. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHSofa.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Hamburg :: Old and new landmarks of Hamburg, Germany, serve as the backdrop for this B-type Floating Home (LEFT). Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHdistance.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Kitchen :: An open floor plan in this B-type Floating Home makes the kitchen island part of the living space. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHKitchen.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Citysport Boat Harbor, Hamburg :: The front of the B-type Floating Home located in Citysport Boat Harbor, Hamburg, Germany. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHBfront.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Deck :: Relaxing on the deck of the B-type Floating Home, one can almost forget this is a fully functional year-round house. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHDeck.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|On the Elbe :: A panorama of the floating village on the Elbe. Notice the alternative gray finish available for the B-type Floating Homes. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHVillage2.jpg{/rokbox} {rokbox album=|float| title=|Victoriakai-Ufer :: Community Victoriakai-Ufer features seven of the smaller D-type Floating Homes on the Elbe River in Hamburg. Image courtesy Architecten Förster Trabitzsch.|}images/stories/2009_04/2009_0421_float_FHDtype.jpg{/rokbox}

The team of Förster and Trabitzsch has pushed the Floating Home concept even further with the Kai 10, a new floating conference center at the Hotel Mercure Hamburg City that opens this month. Billed as Germany’s first floating events and conference center, the glass-enclosed floating meeting rooms are a place where “thoughts and discussions flow.”

Conference and events planners can chose from the Kai Room which seats 85, the Zen Room which seats 95, or the Kaizen Room which seats 180. These rooms may also be used as cinemas. The Pontoon Deck gives yet another water vantage point and can accommodate 115 people. The elegant 78-seat Lounge is recommended for casual business lunches or glamorous after-hours clubbing. The real surprise at Kai 10 is the Subzero Room, a meeting room for 40 people that, as the name suggests, is beneath the water’s surface.

After designing landlocked museums, industrial buildings and schools, and renovating apartment blocks from the 1950s,’60s and ’70s, “Floating” projects clearly give the architectural team of Förster and Trabitzsch room to stretch their imaginations. Just this year, Floating Homes took second place in ELLE magazine’s “Best of Germany” issue.

Following an impressive act like that, what could possibly be on the creative horizon?

“I’ve been an architect for 20 years and this is the most exciting, most challenging project that I know at the moment,” said Förster, “What comes next? I have no idea!”

Buying a Floating Home is not for those who might require a subprime mortgage. Each of the homes is a custom production, and while the company does not publish prices, a Lufthansa inflight magazine article published in 2005 indicated the entry point at that time was around 495,000 Euros – $792,000 in today’s money.

For more information on Floating Homes visit www.floatinghomes.de. To take a peek at the new conference center Kai 10 visit www.kai10.de.

Heidi LuxAn American freelance writer, Heidi Lux grew up near Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of that city’s Nazareth College. She presently lives in Saxony, Germany, where she works as an English language editor and private tutor. Her work has appeared in Transitions Abroad and German Life magazines, as well as several antiques trade publications in the United States.

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Style Century Magazine, a LiveAuctioneers company.