Can amphibious architecture help Bangkok stay afloat when it floods?

Architect Chutayaves Sinthuphan explains how his amphibious house in the village of Ban Sang, Ayutthaya Province, rises on pontoons during a flood.
PHOTO: Nikkei Asian Review / Peter Janssen

BANGKOK - Faced with the prospect of a future under water, Thailand's capital is searching for solutions to fight its fate.

The world's first international conference on amphibious architecture, to be held here later this month, may offer some answers as more than 60 experts gather to debate a relatively new discipline for the aquatically challenged city, once known as the "Venice of the East."

Bangkok has paved over most of the canals that won her that romantic accolade decades ago, but in 2011 the metropolis came close to reclaiming its water-logged reputation when massive floods inundated swathes of the capital and most of the central plains, causing an estimated 1.46 trillion baht ($41 billion) in damages and lost opportunities, according to the World Bank. Four years later, city planners have yet to devise a master policy for adjusting buildings and infrastructure to a future that seems inevitably soggier.

Going with the flow

One possible solution is amphibious architecture, which according to proponents, works with a flood rather than trying to obstruct it. The idea is to construct buildings in a way that allows them to float on the surface of rising floodwater. The building's amphibious foundations keep it connected to the ground while the rest floats as needed during floods.

The conference is timely. A study commissioned by the government and presented to the cabinet last month warns that large parts of Bangkok could be under water 15 years from now if no action is taken. The study, compiled by the National Reform Council's committee to prevent subsidence in Bangkok, found that even without another major flood, the capital faces numerous water-related threats.

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