Venice may soon be sharing its "Floating City" moniker thanks to a research project developing "amphibian houses" that are designed to float in the event of a flood. The FLOATEC project sees the primary market for the houses as the Netherlands, whose low-lying land makes it particularly susceptible to the effects of rising sea levels. Such housing technology could also allow small island-states in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that are at the risk of disappearing in the next 100 years to maintain their claim to statehood through the use of artificial, floating structures.

The lead research partner in the FLOATEC project is Dura Vermeer, a Dutch company that over the past 12 years has become a market leader in the floating building market. Although it might seem difficult, Dura Vermeer's Edwin Blom says building a floating house is actually a relatively easy construction process. As you might expect, the secret lies in the foundations, which are made up of multiple layers of light plastic foam supporting the concrete, allowing it to float.

However, the technology used up until now has had limitations as there is a maximum size and weight beyond which a structure loses its buoyancy and simply sinks. To solve this problem Dura Vermeer teamed up with Spanish company, Acciona Infrastructures, and a Spanish engineering consultancy, Solintel, to develop a new way to build floating structures that were simpler, more solid and used lighter materials.

The new building method they developed uses expanded polystyrene (EPS), which Blon says is, "the same kind as is used for packaging and which people are familiar with: little white balls glued together." This modified polystyrene is inserted in multiple layers in between stratums of composite and concrete and divided into beam-like modules that can easily be assembled into a bigger supporting structure a bit like building blocks. The modules are arranged in a floating grid into which the concrete is cast.

Blom says that although the new technology is more advanced than traditional methods, it is still much cheaper as there is a reduction in the amount of material used. "Smaller blocks can now support bigger structures and, in the end, the cost of the whole building is reduced," he said.

FLOATEC is a European R&D project underwritten by EUREKA, an intergovernmental network established to support market-oriented R&D and innovation projects by industry, research centers and universities across all technological sectors.