Living on Water: Architecture aquatic

The new book that explores houses built on, over and next to water

From tranquil rivers to craggy coastlines, water – and how it shapes the surrounding landscape – has long posed both opportunities and challenges to architects looking to make the most of the natural environment. A new tome from Phaidon examines some of the most groundbreaking contemporary responses, split into three sections: houses built to look out onto water, those built on water and those designed to be reflected by the water. Here we take a look at some of the most eye-catching examples.

Domus Aurea, Monterrey, Mexico

The name of this residence literally translates as "house of gold", with its minimalist, white walls interrupted by a single surface covered in gold leaf that bounces light around the interiors. Domus Aurea was designed as a homage to the late Mexican architect Luis Barragan, channelling his use of clean lines and geometric forms.

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Pole House, Fairhaven, Australia

This landmark on the Great Ocean Road was first conceived by Australian architect Frank Dixon, and has recently undergone an overhaul that lends it a modern edge while retaining the vertiginous nature of the original design. Positioned atop a 42ft column, accessible via a bridge passing over a canopy of trees, what the compact Pole House lacks in space it more than makes up for in views. Currently available for holiday rentals, wake up to the sounds of crashing waves and enjoy unfettered vistas of one of the country's most impressive coastlines.

(Image credit: ©Gibeon Photography)

Watershed Lodge, Big Timber, USA

Watershed Lodge, located on a once-abandoned ranch in Montana, takes its form from its surrounds. As it is built around a series of shallow ponds fed by the Yellowstone River, Hughes Umbanhower Architects raised the building onto an elevated plinth to avoid flooding, allowing the water to naturally ebb and flow underneath and around its concrete foundations, giving the appearance of floating on the river.

(Image credit:

Tulia House, Kilifi, Kenya

Set on a three-acre plot facing out onto the Indian Ocean, Tulia House's proximity to the water combined with Kilifi's warm, humid climate means that the building can be naturally ventilated, ensuring energy efficiency, while many of its materials are locally sourced, such as coral stones quarried nearby. The focal point is an idyllic plunge pool set at the bottom of a dramatic staircase, where you can take in the sound and smell of the ocean from a secluded spot.

(Image credit: ©Nigel Rigden 2013.Full copyright is retained by the Photographer. Images may not be sold or gifted to a third party or used i)

Exbury Egg, Hampshire, UK

This bijou dwelling floating on the Beaulieu River in the New Forest came into being as a way to challenge perspectives on how art and architecture can interact with natural landscapes. Taking inspiration from the seabirds that nest on the banks of the waterway, the distinctive egg-shaped construction is designed to have as low an environmental impact as possible, and was made by a local boat builder from reclaimed cedar wood.

Living on Water is published by Phaidon, £29.95;

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