Your browser is out-of-date.

In order to have a more interesting navigation, we suggest upgrading your browser, clicking in one of the following links.
All browsers are free and easy to install.

  • in vitruvius
    • in magazines
    • in journal
  • \/



projects ISSN 2595-4245

Floating neighbourhood aerial photography
foto Mirande Phernambucq


Steigereiland é a partir do centro de Amesterdão, a primeira ilha do IJburg, um bairro residencial a leste de Amsterdã. Fica situado no Lago IJ e está sendo construído sobre ilhas artificiais que foram levantadas a partir do lago.

Steigereiland is from the center of Amsterdam the first island of IJburg, a residential neighbourhood in the east of Amsterdam. It is situated in the IJ Lake and is being built on artificial islands which have been raised from the lake.

how to quote

PORTAL VITRUVIUS. Floating Amsterdam. City quarter on the water. Projetos, São Paulo, year 12, n. 141.03, Vitruvius, sep. 2012 <>.

Floating Amsterdam
Film Helena Guerra

The scene can be admired with some regularity since 2009: a house sails over the water of the Ijmeer near Amsterdam, sometimes even in groups of two or three, pulled by a tugboat and controlled by a second boat at the back. With appropriate difficulty, this ensemble manoeuvres through a set of locks that is barely wider than the house itself. The house is then neatly docked to a jetty in the inner water, precisely at the designated location. There it will be riveted to two mooring poles.

Nearly one hundred homes have sailed into the lake by now. Together, they form the first large-scale complex of floating houses in the Netherlands. And if we look at the signs, it will not be the last. The space for urban development in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam in particular, is scarce. At the same time, more space will be required for water, as a result of the expected climate changes. This is not only the case in the Netherlands, but also in deltas all over the world. Using a part of the water as building land can greatly increase the possibilities of city development.

Whilst planning Ijburg, the urban expansion project to the east Amsterdam, Steigereiland (‘jetty island’) was designated as experimental area. Ijburg lies on man-made islands in the Ijmeer, without the rink-dike that is common in conventional reclamation practices. As a result, the water is present all around, giving the district its unique and distinct character as city archipelago. It is the perfect place to explore the opportunities of building on water in an urban density, elaborating on initiatives of a single or a few floating houses elsewhere in the country. This has been realized in two varieties: on the western part of the inner lake on a project basis, and on the eastern side by means of private commissions, free from the regulations regarding the architectural appearance.

Floating neighbourhood aerial photography
foto Mirande Phernambucq

Basically, a floating house differs only in one respect from other Amsterdam houses: the house rests on the water instead of piles. But that single difference has many consequences, ranging from swinging chandeliers to deviating mortgages, and from risks regarding water quality to jetties that have to be passable under all weather conditions. Many of the things that are routine on land had to be reinvented, technically, legally and financially, and both on the level of urban development and organisational issues. And, in the end, it has all been reinvented, be it sometimes by trial and error.

Waterbuurt (‘water quarter’) is situated immediately behind the Enneüs Heerma Bridge, an important connection between Ijburg and the rest of Amsterdam. When the plans for Ijburg began to take their final form in the early nineteen nineties, it soon became clear that water and buildings would together determine the atmosphere of the area. The large housing shortage asked for a high building density, and since, Ijburg is a district of Amsterdam, the area had to be lively and bustling. The wide boulevard, with a tram line in the middle, coming straight from the Enneüs Heerma Bridge, fits in with this character. On this boulevard – named Ijburglaan – we find shops, offices and bars, in addition to houses. The experimental Steigereiland is Ijburg’s frontispiece: an outpost before the visitor reaches the much larger islands that lie behind. There are definitely things going on here. Southwest of Ijburglaan, on the opposite side of Waterbuurt, private commissions free from regulations regarding the architectural appearance have led to a series of special houses. And to the northeast of this boulevard, in the sheltered inner water that is separated by means of dikes and a set of locks from the wide and sometimes turbulent Ijmeer, we find the floating houses of Waterbuurt itself.

Seen from the Ijburglaan, this extraordinary quarter is not directly an eye-catcher. The floating houses are hidden behind and elongated residential and commercial building, the Kadegebouw (quay building). The Kadegebouw is architecturally related to the project-based floating homes behind, but is built on a platform up against the quay. According to the original urban design, an apartment building of around thirty meters high, the Sluishuis, would become the eye-catcher upon entering Ijburg. As yet, this building will not be constructed. If economic prospects turn for the better, it may come back into view.

Floating neighbourhood aerial photography
foto Mirande Phernambucq

Perpendicular to the shore, right behind the Kadegebouw, the jetties with their floating houses lie on the inland water body. These jetties are public and can be accessed through gates under the Kadegebouw. The heads form a diagonal line parallel to the power lines that run above the water, with a pylon right in the middle. Lying on similar jetties at the other side of the water are the floating houses built in private commissions. In total, there are now 93 floating homes, and another 72 will follow, plus a small number of houseboats that are now moored at locations elsewhere in Amsterdam. Waterbuurt West has reached a density of around one hundred houses per hectare, which is comparable to the Jordaan area in centre of Amsterdam.

In Waterbuurt, there are more forms of maritime living that the floating houses. Three high pile dwellings situated in the water mark the cross bridges between the jetties in the project-based section. Seventeen dike residences built on piles in the water are situated along Haringbuisdijk to the west. And the Kadegebouw is built directly against the shore, with no public street between the façade of the building and the water. All these forms of living derive a special quality from the water, and therefore they belong to Ijburg. However, these buildings demanded less of the ingenuity of designers, developers, governments and suppliers than the floating homes and the jetties on which they lie.

The number of preregistrations for the floating houses and the plots of water was explosive. Every house and every plot seemed to be sellable several times, to water sports enthusiasts who want to have their boat moored next to their house, to former houseboat residents returning to Amsterdam, to people who are attracted by the sense of freedom that comes with living on the water. Another part of the interested parties were people who were just looking for a nice single-family  house or a plot free of regulations regarding the architectural appearance, whether on land or on water. During the sales procedure, the U.S. bank Lehman Brothers went down, marking the beginning of a global financial crisis. The private plots had already been raffled and issued, but many candidates of the project-based houses had to retreat. Nevertheless, interest remained so great that it took little time before all houses were sold to their future residents. In an age where every city is looking for varied and distinctive living environments, in which quality of living is a factor of significance with regard to economic development, this is an important signal. Living on the water, in a proper house rather than a houseboat, meets a need. Also in a distinctly urban setting such as Ijburg.

Detail on the sanitary and electrical instalations on the moorage jetty


Helena attended the Mediatour Building and Design, from 15 to 20th April 2012, she visited architectural and urban projects in some Dutch cities. The event was organized by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and Sara M. Cohen, head of the department for Political Affairs, Public Diplomacy and Culture of the Dutch Embassy in Brasilia, has invited the Vitruvius portal.

Nina Dalla Bernardina, attends FAU Mackenzie, she is responsible for the special edition of Projects review about the Netherlands. Patrícia Oliveira Lima, architecture student at Senac, collaborated in editing. Both are interns in Vitruvius portal.


141.03 residencial
how to quote


original: português

outros: english




141.01 urbanismo

IABR Test Site São Paulo

Fernando de Mello Franco and George Brugmans

141.02 equipamento cultural

Biblioteca Pública de Amsterdam

141.04 urbanismo


141.05 revitalização

Triâgulo Strijp S, Eindhoven

Jo Coenen and Ard de Vries

141.06 preservação

Zaanse Schans

Paul Meurs


© 2000–2024 Vitruvius
All rights reserved

The sources are always responsible for the accuracy of the information provided