Over four days ending yesterday, a small gathering of 50 people who represent 80 per cent of the world's experts in this architectural form shared ideas at the world's first International Conference on Amphibious Architecture, Design and Engineering, in Bangkok.

The choice of the Thai capital was fitting. Some 150 years ago, it was mostly a floating city and, by all indications, could revert to being one in far less than the next 150 years. Much of the city is below sea level - and it is sinking further.

Among the delegates was Netherlands-based Mr Koen Olthuis, of the firm Waterstudio, which builds floating homes around the world for the super rich. Mr Olthuis wants to bring the same technology to the world's slums, most of which are on or very near water.

"Around one billion people live in slums worldwide, of whom 60 per cent to 70 per cent live close to water or are affected by water - on canals, rivers and so forth," he said in an interview. "But nobody wants to invest because they are legally grey areas."


Malaysia's Mr Fatos Omar Othman, a social entrepreneur who co-founded Vlot Homes, a Petaling Jaya-based company that has been asked by the chief minister of Penang to develop the first batch of floating houses for the state.

"We have the houses, but they are still prototypes. We are looking at Malaysia as a proving ground," he told The Sunday Times.

Said Mr Chutayaves of amphibious architecture: "Somehow, we have to live with nature and not fight against it.

"We are looking at how Bangkok can survive if the water rises several metres. We are getting real studies done, we are imagining an airport built on top of a building."

In Thailand, though, architects like him are still considered outliers, he said.