The Thames Amphibious House

  • by Richard Coutts
  • /
  • 2018-06-15 16:32:54
  • /
  • Internazionale
  • /
  • 24860 / EN
  • Building Type : Isolated or semi-detached house
  • Construction Year : 2015
  • Delivery year : 2015
  • Address 1 - street : SL7 1QE MARLOW, United Kingdom
  • Climate zone : [Cfb] Marine Mild Winter, warm summer, no dry season.

  • Net Floor Area : 205 m2
  • Construction/refurbishment cost : 750 000 €
  • Cost/m2 : 3658.54 €/m2

Certifications :

  • Primary energy need :
    80.26 kWhpe/m2.year
    (Calculation method : Other )
Energy consumption
Economical buildingBuilding
< 50A
51 à 90B
91 à 150C
151 à 230D
231 à 330E
331 à 450F
> 450G
Energy-intensive building

An amphibious house is a building that rests on the ground on fixed foundations but whenever a flood occurs, rises up in its dock and floats there buoyed by the floodwater.

The amphibious house is located adjacent to the River Thames in Marlow is a UK first. Based on the practices pioneering non-defensive approach to make space for water within the built environment - the house marks a valuable and critical contribution to both architectural design and flood resilience discourse.

The Amphibious House is a highly innovative approach to tackle extreme flooding. The 250 tonne house,which sits on the ground within a purpose made dock, is able to rise upto 2.7m when a flood occurs, bouyed by the flood water; whilst remaining connected to all utilities through flexible servicing. Built on the banks of the River Thames in Buckinghamshire, the house is the first to secure Planning, Building Regulations and to be constructed in the United Kingdom.

The house uses technology from marine and bridge construction as well as conventional building to create an elegant solution to flooding that is also attractive and complimentary to the setting. The flotation attributes, including the guide-posts, slide-gear and flexible services are expressed in the architecture as is the industrial weatherscreen skin. The triple height glazed facade allows views of the river from all floors. The northern elevation provides a simple complement to neighbouring houses.

The unique 225sqm house, which is located just 10m from the river’s edge and within a Planning Conservation Area the house, also provides an intelligent and contextual response to its setting. The design was tailored to overcome the challenges of having no vehicular access to the site, limited space to work and needing all plant and materials to be brought across the river via a lightweight chain ferry. This pioneering prototype house passed a full float test before client occupation.

The Amphibious house demonstrates that architecture, engineering and flood strategies can be holistically combined to create beautiful buildings that allow occupants to enjoy living near water safely.

See more details about this project

Data reliability




    Simon Rogers

Construction Manager

    Creative Interiors



    Techniker (Structural)

    Matthew Wells

    Design of can-float base and civil engineering

Contracting method

General Contractor

 Close liaison with Environment Agency
 Close liaison with Planning Department
 Close liaison with Building Control

Owner approach of sustainability

The Owner/occupiers are Mechanical Engineers and Landscape architects. They wished to live by the river but safely and sensitively. The client found Baca architects through internet research regarding the practices flood resilient philosophy and prototype housing design. The clients are to be congratulated for commissioning this important prototype. 

Architectural description

The local authority planning department required that the height and scale of the building should not be larger than other buildings on the island; that materials should complement the setting; and that flood risk should be reduced. The first two constraints influenced the buildings form and appearance.


Flood-risk reduction required both integrated landscape and building approaches; these were set out in a detailed flood-risk assessment, described below.


The site is located in the middle catchment of the River Thames. The river is wide and navigable and requires a large rainfall before it floods. Flow gauges installed along the river help to provide two or more days early warning of a flood. However, when the site does flood it can last for several days.  In 2014, a 1 in 50 to 1 in 100 flood occurred, halting construction work for 10 weeks. The flood was predicted in advance in local and national press and on television, radio and the internet, providing ample warning.



A carefully laid out garden acts as a natural flood warning system. Terraces set at different levels are designed to flood incrementally and alert the occupants well before the water reaches a threatening level, as an ‘intuitive landscape’. The lowest terrace is planted with reeds, another with shrubs and plants. The lawn is located a level above and the terrace is located at the highest point, immediately below the living room. The terraced levels improve recovery by providing dry areas as water levels drop, and the plants help to reduce siltation of the dock. 


The anatomy of an amphibious house

The amphibious house contains four key constituent parts:

  1.  Wet dock and debris control
  2. Can-float base and dwelling
  3. Guide posts and running gear
  4. Flexible utility connections

1. The wet dock a hole in the ground formed from steel sheet piling,with a reinforced concrete ring beam retaining the top edges of the piles. A permeable

concrete slab forms the base of the dock and retains the bottom edge of the sheet piling. The slab is supported by concrete piles driven into the ground and carries the weight of the building during dry conditions. The concrete ring beam is cast adjacent to the can-float base to create an overlap in the structure and minimise the amount of debris that enters the dock. Some siltation is inevitable; therefore the base is profiled to create a void under the house, which can be flushed out from time to time.


2. The can-float base functions similarly to the hull of a ship. It provides the building’s buoyancy and supports the structural frame of the dwelling. The can-float hull is formed from reinforced waterproof concrete to protect against water

ingress. The foundation is designed to be heavy enough to prevent crabbing and impact damage, but sufficient in volume and light enough in mass to provide buoyancy.


3. The dwelling is set between four galvanized steel columns termed ‘dolphins’. A bespoke running mechanism is fixed between the house and guide posts to facilitate smooth vertical movement as the house rises and falls. The dolphins hold the house true and level against the river current during a flood.


4. Services connect the house with land. Insulated and flexible pipes run along the side of the house, within the wet dock, to pump wastewater into a treatment tank set in the ground.

Based on philosophy of the LiFE Project for Defra

If you had to do it again?

We are now on to our next generation of amphibious and floating homes. This building type now has proof of concept in the UK , which means securing planning for the next generation should be easier. We have learned a great deal regarding its construction and have

Building users opinion

Our site is at flood risk. We considered raising the house on stilts but we were restricted by planning rules as to how high we could build. Also we didn't want too many steps in old age. The amphibious house will provide us with more accommodation on a small footprint that can rise during a flood event to keep us and its contents safe and dry. The build was challenging as everything had to come across the river but we now have panoramic views across the river safe in the knowledge that the house can adapt as necessary to rising river levels.

Energy consumption

  • 80,26 kWhpe/m2.year
  • 100,00 kWhpe/m2.year
  • Other


    • Individual electric boiler
    • Other hot water system
    • Reversible heat pump
    • No cooling system
    • compensated Air Handling Unit
    • Solar Thermal
  • 20,00 %

Smart Building

    House uses a Hive Hub 360 - providing heating, cooling & security control plus energy and water consumption monitoring.

GHG emissions

  • 21,64 KgCO2/m2/year


    Amphibious Dolphin

    Techniker engineering / Baca Architects

    Techniker engineering / Baca Architects

    Opere strutturali / Struttura - Involucro - Finitura

    The dwelling is set between four galvanized steel columns termed ‘dolphins’. A bespoke running mechanism is fixed between the house and guide posts to facilitate smooth vertical movement as the house rises and falls. The dolphins hold the house true and level against the river current during a flood.

    Services connect the house with land. Insulated and flexible pipes run along the side of the house, within the wet dock, to pump wastewater into a treatment tank set in the ground.

    Similar to servicing a boat/yacht the sliding gear requires testing with an annual float test lifting the building a minimum of 300mm form its static position

Construction and exploitation costs

  • 750 000

Energy bill

  • 800,00

Urban environment

The site for the replacement dwelling is on an isolated island on the River Thames. This meant that all construction components had to be designed to be transported across the river and assembled with limited mechanical means.

Land plot area

350,00 m2

Built-up area

35,00 %


Building Environmental Quality

  • Building flexibility
  • consultation - cooperation
  • water management
  • maintenance
  • integration in the land
  • building process
  • products and materials
The ​UK's first amphibious house - A flood resilient home adaptable to rising river levels

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Smart Building

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Users' Choice

Users' Choice

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