Product, Service & Design Innovation
Wikkelboats Bringing Life, Recreation, Sustainable Design Opportunities to Unused Urban Waterways

These biodegradable, floating houses are revitalizing abandoned European harbors, creating recreational spaces for everyone to enjoy while inspiring the masses to make more sustainable design choices.

Many harbors and ports around the world have been abandoned and left derelict — particularly in Western Europe. As city space becomes more and more limited, residents are often deprived of recreational areas — and letting viable spaces remain empty feels even more wasteful.

The Netherlands-based houseboat builder Floating Tinies BV has found a way to repurpose these abandoned ports to host a new type of mobile, multifunctional, recreational space: Along with supply partner Wikkelhouse — builder of prefabricated, modular structures made primarily from wood and cardboard — they have created a floating version, Wikkelboat, that is reviving life in the abandoned Netherlands ports of Rotterdam and Den Bosch whilst showcasing the possibilities of alternative, sustainable materials and architectural design.

“It all started five years ago, when we built a small harbor in the city area in Rotterdam. It was never our purpose to build it; but commercial companies said it was too small for them, so we stepped in,” Wikkelboat CEO and founder Sander Waterval told Sustainable Brands®. “I thought it would be great if we could use this space, to utilize the water and create a multifunctional venue.”

The Wikkelhouse composition is very light, making it ideal for conversion for life on water. Made exclusively of sustainable materials, the nearly 100 percent biodegradable, modular buildings are made of a series of interlocking cardboard segments that can be easily connected, rearranged or augmented, and are easily transportable. To create each segment, 24 layers of cardboard are wrapped around a house-shaped mold and then bonded together using a non-toxic superglue. The cardboard is treated with a waterproof, but breathable, film incorporated into the design and wooden cladding boards.

Image credit: Wikkelboat

To create the Wikkelboat, Waterval and his team paired a floating concrete structure with metal frames, on which the Wikkelhouse rests. Shock-breakers and electrical and technical elements are then added per each client’s desired specifications to customize the Wikkelboat, which can easily be towed to a different area at the end of a lease period.

As Waterval explains, Wikkelboats aren’t designed for permanent residency — the municipalities currently don’t allow that — so, the floating structures weren’t created as a permanent housing solution. Rather, the Wikkelboats are only used for short-term, commercial purposes — for example, special events, water activities and vacation rentals.

“Outdoor space is very limited; so, Wikkelboats allow people an outside place to escape to and embrace the water,” he explains. “As cities become more densely populated, having this space for recreational activities is going to be crucial; and we are providing that. I think if you want to solve the housing problem, then we need to go in the sky,” he added.

While currently not intended for permanent residency, the company says Wikkelboats can last 50-100 years, are well insulated and can generate their own electricity through rooftop solar panels; and their tiny but luxurious designs demonstrate that clever and efficient use of space, rather than size, can create comfort. The company hopes to inspire people to think differently about the construction of spaces — the sustainable materials that can be used, how energy can be generated efficiently, and how areas can be repurposed to benefit the masses and help with city expansion. Waterval believes that everything on the water should be temporary, as water is a common asset that should be available for everybody; and he hopes Wikkelboats can inspire users to think about luxury, relaxation and even travel differently.

“If people realize they don’t need so much space, then they might accept the process of living with less; maybe not in a tiny house — but people might be inspired to make more sustainable choices," Waterval says. “I know [many people] want some luxury; but if people realize that they can go on holiday in a very special way nearby, even on the water, then people might choose not to fly — [resulting in] fewer emissions and so on.”

Wikkelboat is planning to collaborate with other developers and municipalities that are looking to activate their waterways for sustainable uses. As cities continue to become more crowded and land more limited, Waterval hopes Wikkelboats will provide an inspirational, floating option for escape in an overstimulating world.

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