AMSTERDAM - When Koen Olthuis finally landed his first job after graduating as an architect, his new firm wouldn't let him work on the most historic or prestigious accounts in Amsterdam's 17th century centre. He got houseboats. Floating boxes.
But the young Dutchman, who stems from boat building and architecture stock, dove right into his new job, and it wasn't long before he started making connections between the principles of a floating house, and the battle the Dutch have been waging against the sea to reclaim land and stay dry for 500 years.
He thought, if a house can float, why not an office complex or a structure big enough to hold a whole city?
Mr Olthuis, who along with building partner Dutch Docklands, designed a section of floating islands for Dubai's man-made Palm Islands development project, has also created a patent which scales up the technology used for a houseboat to floating structures big enough to hold cars, roads and houses.
"Water is a workable building layer or a floating foundation and if you turn water into space, which is a dramatic change of mindset, there's a whole new world of possibilities," Mr Olthuis told Reuters.
He said the basis for his design isn't any different than the normal Dutch floating technology used for houseboats.
"It is just a floating foundation, mostly made of concrete and foam which is quite stable, heavy, and goes up and down with waves and up and down with the sea level," he said.
The floating city of the future is still a dream, but Mr Olthuis's firm, WaterStudio, which he started a decade ago, designs buildings and floating structures which try to combat the challenges posed by rising sea levels.
"Because of urbanisation and climate change, all the big cities have space limitations. We can create space with water, space that others have never even seen," he explained.
He said he wants to create space where land is under threat from rising sea levels and compares the methods for building floating structures to the invention of the elevator.
"If the elevator were never invented, then cities wouldn't have buildings with more than three or four levels, because nobody wants to walk up more than that. But with elevators, we can climb 20, 30 even 40 flights."
Mr Olthuis's firm has designed plenty of floating homes in The Netherlands and is laying plans to start building an entirely new floating neighbourhood with 1,200 homes.
It has projects in India and China and has begun preparing the lagoons for a holiday resort project in the Maldives, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean that is one of the world's most endangered nations due to flooding from climate change.
"We started thinking seriously about designing a whole floating island when we got a request from the Maldives, which are threatened in the long-term by rising sea levels, and they are looking for new development opportunities."