BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
They may not be capable of sinking ocean liners, but they certainly have had a titanic effect on the housing market. “iceberg houses” have received a chilly reception from neighbours as this new architectural trend continues to grow across Europe and France.
The idea is simple – in densely packed, stratified neighbourhoods like London’s ritziest districts, zoning laws make it illegal to build up. Homeowners opted to build down instead – digging out basements, sub-basements, and other underground extensions to pad out relatively small bungalows. The end result is very much like (you guessed it) an iceberg – a tiny visible portion supported by a vast network of underground renovations. In densely populated neighbourhoods, this tactic allows individuals to expand their homes while remaining within property laws.
It sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? In reality, however, iceberg homes weren’t quite the real-estate miracle that some touted them to be – especially for neighbours. Construction times often turned lengthy, loud, and ugly. In some cases, iceberg houses proved destructive, undermining neighbouring foundations. Finally, in 2014, London passed strict laws against the practice, kiboshing any future spelunkers. In some ways, the iceberg housing trend seemed like the logical conclusion of a variety of nasty housing trends – rising costs of living, increased gentrification of neighbourhoods, and urban sprawl threatening to relocate city centres away from dense population centres. Iceberg housing was an attempted cure for the disease that merely mutated into another symptom.
Trying to “bury” our problems didn’t work, so how else can we move to provide housing accommodations in an era of increasingly dense cities? In fifty years, scientists and sociologists predict that every square foot will have to count. Mile-high skyscrapers and condominiums will no doubt become the norm in major metropolitan centres like Toronto. Rather than going big, one alternate solution aims to scale down the real estate market entirely.
The prototypical Ecocapsule aims to do just that. Resembling an egg with a pinwheel, the Ecocapsule has been designed as an easy way to live “off the grid.” It self-generates its own wind and solar power, and it’s possible to cram dozens of Ecocapsules into a comparatively small area. Meanwhile, there’s promise in deploying a series of man-made floating houses across city waterways and channels to accommodate population overflow. Future cities might develop Venetian neighbourhoods to alleviate the pressure on overtaxed residential districts.While iceberg housing wasn’t quite the miracle it was originally hyped as, its rise and fall indicates the need for better, more affordable housing; as cities continue to grow, new housing options are a must. It’s sink or swim time.