The amphibious house from Grand Designs

The amphibious house in Buckinghamshire

The flood-proof floating house was an engineering gamble that paid off

By Sophie Vening | 2 January 2017

The amphibious house in Buckinghamshire, which first graced our screens in 2014, was a first for the UK. Here, Andy and Nicki Bruce explain how they built their innovative flood-proof home.

Kevin McCloud described it as ‘an experimental piece of engineering,’ when he first heard about Andy and Nicki Bruce’s proposals for an amphibious house designed to float should their plot ever flood. It was something never attempted in the UK before, but the couple pressed ahead with the courageous scheme so that they could afford their dream house with views over the River Thames.

Andy, the chief executive of a UK software company, and Nicki, a garden designer, have lived in Buckinghamshire with their son and their two springer spaniels for 23 years. They had always dreamed of residing by the river, but with house prices rising rapidly beyond their means, they decided to buy a plot with a bungalow on it, knock it down and build a modern house.

The amphibious house in Buckinghamshire was on Grand Designs in 2014

Photo: Darren Chung

Building a flood-proof house

There was just one problem – the land, which lies on a private island only accessible via a narrow footbridge, is prone to flooding. You may remember the couple experiencing a natural disaster first hand on the TV show only eight months into the build.

‘We initially considered building on stilts, but that would have limited the height of the final design because of planning restrictions,’ Andy explains. The solution was an ‘amphibious house’, designed by Baca Architects. Although it’s already a popular construction method in the Netherlands, the flood-proof concept is brand new to Britain.

The plan was to excavate around 1,000 tons of earth, digging to a depth of about four metres below the average water level. The vast hole would then be lined with solid reinforced concrete. Inside this dock, a concrete box forming the basement of the house would float if and when flooding occurs. Mechanisms known as dolphins keep the structure level, while a prefabricated timber frame sitting on top provides the living accommodation.

Thankfully, planning was granted for the bold scheme in 2011. ‘We knew it would be a complex application as we were going to have to explain to the planners what an amphibious house is,’ says Andy. ‘We needed to have extensive discussions with both them and the Environment Agency about the nature of the application before consent was granted.’

Inside the Grand Designs amphibious house in Buckinghamshire

Photo: Darren Chung