floating urban blocks

modeling communities that adapt to rising sea levels


Sept 2017 - Dec 2017


Environmental Issues


Rapid Prototyping, CAD


Kristina Hill, Nate Kauffman


Regina Madanguit

Project Lead

Aryan Nair

Material Analysis

Joey Besgen

Material Analysis

James Zamora

User Research

Ariel Chen

User Research


Kristina Hill

Professor, Landscape Architecture

Nate Kauffman

PhD Candidate, Landscape Architecture


To mitigate the increasing risk that rising sea levels pose to developed infrastructure along coastal regions, we reimagined floating houses and community blocks within the Bay Area by modeling a 3D structure of a sustainable community.

Our partner

Resilient by Design is a collaborative research and design project that brings designers and experts together to develop innovative solutions to climate change issues. Professor Kristina Hill specializes in urban ecology in relation to architectural design and social justice. Nate Kauffman is a PhD candidate studying landscape architecture and environmental planning.

The problem

Rising sea levels pose a threat to developed infrastructure along coastal regions, especially in the Bay Area. As ocean levels rise, the risk of homes, roadways, and other structures flooding increases. Using Professor Hill’s pre-existing research, we were able to amass data through existing models of floating houses already implemented throughout the world.

Who is our user?

Bay Area residents

who reside in homes around sea level and near the coastline

Our users need...

Houses that are functional and environmentally adaptable, while still feeling like homes.
A cohesive community that contains shared public spaces where residents can interact with each other.
A thoughtful design for community block that is safe, secure, and adaptable to rising sea levels.


We created a three-dimensional architectural model of a floating community block to illustrate streamlined and functional individual residences and a liveable community layout, while showing the block’s interaction with a water-filled landform.


Residence Designs

How might we create a sustainable structure for individual homes that are adaptable to rising sea levels?

We began by researching existing floating communities to determine the architectural requirements of a floating residential structure, taking inspiration from similar structures in Ijburg, Netherlands. Combining that inspiration with our own ideas for a functional and comfortable home layout, we sketched designs for two-story homes.

After visualizing a two-dimensional unfolded layout, we created initial prototypes out of cardboard and aluminum foil. Once we tested the efficacy of our 3D designs, we created a higher-fidelity prototype by laser cutting each individual home design from plywood. These structures served as our models for houses.


Community Layout

How might we make a group of floating homes feel like a community, to maintain an interactive public environment while being environmentally conscious?

Our goal was to create a housing layout that reflected a community rather than just individual homes. We tested various configurations of the laser-cut structures we had created to determine the best possible community arrangement.

For each layout, we gathered user feedback from Bay Area residents about its potential liveability to gain more insight into how individuals might interact within each community design.

Based on our feedback analysis, we ultimately chose a layout with houses arranged around the edges of the block, with a common area in the center of the arrangement. This formation allows for a more protected and cohesive community feel, with space for a public area such as a community center or park.


3D Model Fabrication

How might we develop a three-dimensional model of a floating urban block that is long-lasting and functions to communicate our community designs?

After deciding on the layout for the houses, we created a model for the entire system. Our purpose was to create a higher-fidelity model of what the community would look like and how it would interact with a live body of water.

For our final version, we 3D-printed the houses and block. The landform itself was created out of foam and supported by an outer layer of plywood. A buoyancy calculator was used ensure dimension. All pieces were coated in waterproof gesso so that the floating ability of the block could be tested with a secluded body of water that can persist without eutrophication.

For this model, we decided to create a version in which the houses themselves do not float separately, but rather sit on a block that supports the whole community. This allows for the block configurations to be easily rearranged as more research and usability testing is conducted.