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Floating House Welcomes Sunlight (Seattle)

Credits: ©2010 Nico Saieh / Architecture Daily

by Nico Saieh - Continuing a long and distinguished history of floating homes in Seattle, this new floating home is located on Lake Union, in the heart of the city. Offering panoramic views south of downtown Seattle, Queen Anne Hill to the west, and Gas Works Park northward, this home takes full advantage of its location. The clients requested a contemporary home which would provide the spaces required for comfortable living and gracious entertaining. The final design strives to meet these performance needs in a house that transforms what could be a banal “box” into one with architectural integrity.


Floating House Night

Second floor spaces are clad in Slatescape Xtreme fiber cement panels in this floating home in Seattle. ©2010 Ben Benschneider

Given a limited allowable footprint and the desire of the owner to maximize both interior living and outdoor entertaining spaces, the plan flips the typical residential model by locating public spaces on the upper level and private spaces on the entry level. This strategy allows for the consolidation of entertaining spaces in one large space on the upper level with direct access by circular stair to a rooftop deck. The design promotes flexibility of use and affords maximum exposure to views and light for the living areas.

The massing of the house is an exercise in carving; the challenge was to meet the clients’ needs for space yet develop an envelope that is visually interesting and coherent. Various decks are recessed into the volume and changes in materials and surfaces provide accents that speak to differentiated interior uses. A translucent stair tower “knits” the two floors together and becomes a central visual element. Large sliding doors on the upper level open the interior to the exterior thereby enhancing the connection of living spaces to the surrounding lake. In bedrooms, the placement of glazed doors and windows was carefully considered to maximize views, to accentuate visual connections to the neighboring floating home community, and to provide natural light.

In response to environmental concerns, the location and treatment of glazing promote passive heating and cooling while providing abundant natural light. Sun screens and overhangs provide effective summer shading. Efficient hydronic in-floor heating utilizes an energy efficient heat pump system and the fresh air ventilation system utilizes an energy saving heat exchanger.


The following is from ArchInnovations, March 2009:
The house is located on a floating home dock on Lake Union, in Seattle. The city has a long tradition with floating homes. The architects wanted to echo the spirit of the floating home community, with a project that speaks to the promise of the future without ignoring the community’s storied past.

The site has a prime location with great views towards Downtown Seattle to the south as well as Lake Union directly beneath it. The clients program called for a high percentage of allowable area to be interior space. Consequently, many walls were pushed to the float’s perimeter and presented a large box to the smaller scaled neighbors.

The integration of the project within its surroundings pushed for dematerializing the box to fit the scale of neighboring homes was investigated.

The selective carving of the exterior envelope to promote views and light coupled with coding the programmatic functions using material and color allowed for a three dimensional "reading" of the program whereby reducing the larger structure into scale with its neighbors.

With a small lot size and the intent to maximize the indoor space as well as the external areas, the architects flipped the typical residential plan, placing the public spaces on the upper level and the private space on the float level.

Putting the public area on the upper floor allowed a consolidation of the spaces dedicated for entertainment into one large flexible space. These spaces look out on an outdoor terrace, accessible via a sliding wall system. Once the sliding wall gets opened, the terrace becomes a direct extension of the interior space, and the separation between the indoor and the outdoor gets blurred.

Beside the entrance and access to the upper level, the float level is host to the bedrooms, including the Guest Bedroom and the Master Bedroom. These rooms possess a generous amount of glazing that allows them to profit from the view.

Relevant books:

The Houseboat Book
Handmade Houseboats
Houseboats: Aquatic Architecture of Sausalito



Vandeventer + Carlander Architects

Floating Homes Association Seattle