BACA ARCHITECTS: design that truly enhances people’s life with water!
Updated: Mar 14
Writer: Nataly Velásquez Rodríguez. Editor: Nathalie Mezza-García.
We recently premiered Seaphia’s Floating Cities Show. In our first episode, we had the pleasure of talking to Richard Coutts, co-founder and director of Baca Architects. BACA is one of the most important architecture and design firms in the UK. Finding a non-defensive approach to flooding has been one aspect that has made BACA a leader in the evolving field of Aquatecture, defined as an architectural adaptation typology used to mitigate and manage flooding (https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/etd/85/). You can read more about the topic in Richard’s book “Aquatecture: Buildings and cities designed to live and work with water” (book by Robert Barker and Richard Coutts, RIBA Publishing, 2016).
It all started in Manchester about a decade ago when the team was taking upon their first projects. Looking at the process in part as a competition for the market of flood mitigation designs and constructions, Richard and his team decided their aim was to differentiate themselves from the rest. They succeeded by answering the question
“What if we let water in?”.
Their train of thought was that flood defense maintenance is expensive for governments, and the landscape is sacrificed to build them. When water is not repelled but incorporated into the life cycle of a structure, the possibilities become wider in terms of accessibility and the use of the architectural elements that interact with the surrounding environment.
BACA’s daily work is full of questions regarding issues such as the difficulties experienced by people in wheelchairs, with a pushchair, and considering what to do with cars parked at garages when neighborhoods are full of water. Their creative solutions to these problems have paid well for Richard and his colleagues. Their signature Amphibious House has 3-bedrooms, 225 m2, and was the first-ever built residence of its type in the UK. The house has overcome the challenges posed by 1 to 2.5m of water level increase occurred in half a century since the construction of the oldest dwellings in the small island of Buckinghamshire.
BACA Architects are very proud of this home (as they should be) and say regarding it:
“The house was also subject to Conservation and Environment Agency rules. The solution was an amphibious house, a building that rests on the ground when conditions are dry, but rises up in its dock and floats during a flood.” (https://www.baca.uk.com/amphibioushouse.html)
The firm collaborates with partners on different continents, and together with Waterstudio from the Netherlands, they worked in a floating neighborhood in Boston that will rise or low about 7 meters with the tide, “a bigger version of the amphibious unit”.
Watch the full episode to get all the details, explained by Richard himself, on the ideas implemented to have connected utilities, beautiful aesthetics, and “intuitive landscape” at the same time that floods are not blocked by walls.
The rising water level is an important issue for Richard. Our guest said in the episode featuring his work “populations of over 5 million are next to, or all within 100 kilometers of the coast. And probably in the last 10 years, there's been a major flood event somewhere”. We can see that Richard and BACA have committed to developing an architecture that makes safe spaces for people and water.
We identify our work and perspective with Richard’s emphasis that for climate change and innovative projects to blossom, there needs to be stakeholder alignment between the community, policymakers, and designers.
Effective understanding of the parties involved leads to facilities and areas that are used for over one traditional purpose. “A park area with views can double as storm storage during flashy floods or very heavy rainfall to use the collected water afterward, and it gives you space among properties, as well”, Richard pointed out.
Just as most companies in every industry, BACA had to face the new reality of Covid and remote work. But Richard and his team were able to triumph during the pandemics. Richard is now fascinated with the versatility that digital technology has injected into the creative realm -talking from London to Charlotte “as if we were on the other side of the table”. The lockdowns also gave the architects at BACA time to go back to the physical drawing board, to sit and look around to be inspired.
In the conversation, we even had the chance to see the original drafts on paper of the Floating Sanctuary - Water Lily PADS (above). This is an eco-wellness floating resort to be built in Ashwicken, UK, featuring waterside living and recreation. After dealing with site constraints on the lake that prevented the initial necklace design, and given the need for a structure that was low and close to the water, yet with a fantastic silhouette, the waterlily shaped retreat has become one of the most popular projects of the firm on the internet.
We love and sincerely admire the ingenious work of Baca Architects, and particularly the Underwater Ocean Discovery Centre planned to be at the end of a 2km pier in the ocean. This Cetaceum (1) inspired edifice will be home to Australia’s largest natural marine observatory.
Besides the emergence of hundreds of job opportunities for locals, the facilities will offer a unique immersed experience for visitors to be inside the “tank” looking at sea life rather than out of it. Kids will learn about maritime conservation and camp at the site, resembling sleeping on the bottom of the ocean, with all the creatures swimming above.
These incredible developments are possible amidst the progress of regulations and other formal procedures. Unfortunately, their advance is still impressively slow compared to the appearance of problems to solve. Richard participated recently in the UN-Habitat virtual summit on the current global housing crisis in the rise of climate change emergencies around the world. One initiative discussed was the Innovation License that would permit “environmental planning professionals to develop a piece of engineering, designed fit for purpose, rather than re-using conventional materials (techniques) from bridge-building technology or the Marine industry” and count on the legal, executive frameworks required to have proposals that reduce carbon footprint, energy use, etc, approved.
It is clear that Baca Architects is determined to keep pushing the boundaries of the multidimensional elements that make Aquatecture, not only a super interesting growing discipline but the difference for many between unsafe and dignified places to live.
Seaphia will continue to take you on this breathtaking trip to learn directly from the minds of architects, designers, and decision-makers of our present and future Floating Cities!
1. Cetaceum: a mythological ocean beast.