June 21 2013

Seattle’s Floating Homes: Expanding the Built Environment on the Water

Floating Homes, Portage Bay, Seattle

Are floating home communities a new urban design strategy to expand the built environment past the shoreline? Unlike a houseboat, floating homes have no propulsion power, but are built with a buoyant platform (or raft) that is semi-permanently moored to a dock. They are also always attached to city utilities (that is, they are plugged in to the electrical grid and receive water and sewage service).

Today, there are very few floating home communities in the States, with most of them being located in West Coast cities, such as in Seattle, Washington. In the 1920’s, wealthy families spent their summers living on houseboats, and the Great Depression caused an explosion of people living on the water. But by the 1960’s, city officials had removed many houseboats and floating homes from the waterfront in the name of urban renewal.

Floating Homes, Portage Bay, Seattle

Within the city limits of Seattle, floating home communities exist only on Lake Union and Portage Bay because of city regulations. The Shoreline Management Act regulates uses and development within 200 feet of all the shorelines within the State of Washington. Local jurisdictions, such as the city of Seattle, are then required by state law to develop a Shoreline Management Plan. A few months ago, the City of Seattle released a revised draft of its update to the Shoreline Management Plan, which includes the following policy goals:

  • Preferred Shoreline Uses;
  • Environmental Protection; and
  • Public Access.

The Shoreline Management Plan, coupled with the increasing value of waterfront property, has resulted in fewer floating homes. The City of Seattle banned new floating homes in 1990, so today the city has approximately 500 floating homes left. Future updates to the Shoreline Management Plan could cause floating homes to completely disappear along Seattle’s waterfront.

Do you see floating home communities as a way to expand the traditional boundaries of “land” within a city? Or are they privatizing the waterways in a way that the general public cannot use them? Please share your comments below.

Credits: Photographs by Amanda Bosse. Data linked to sources.

Amanda Bosse

Amanda Bosse is a former writer for the GRID. At the time she was writing, she was in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Washington. Growing up in the Midwest, she became interested in the dialogue between the individual structures and the urban fabric (including those structures not typically designed by architects). With a background in both architecture and urban design, Amanda was primarily interested in applying architectural thinking to solve larger scale design problems.

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 21st, 2013 at 9:11 am and is filed under Housing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Seattle’s Floating Homes: Expanding the Built Environment on the Water”

  1. Mike Aldana Says:

    It’s a good idea for water sites conservation since it avoids earth filling.

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