Umi Baden Powell 

Recent ‘viability assessments’ are facilitating the abuse of strict affordable housing quotas and section 106 regulations [8]. In order to counter-balance these exploitations social and affordable housing needs to be built and protected. In Roger Zogolovitch’s book Shouldn’t we all be developers? he states ‘The price of land makes up 40 to 50% of the total cost of the average development in the UK.’ [9] The Liquid Institute explores water (both inland waterways and the surrounding “floodable”, “unbuildable” land) as a new territory for affordable, self-build and social housing. Blue spaces (inland waterways, canals and rivers, empty docks, wharfs and floodplains) in the Greater London are broadly, publicly owned and could be made available for such housing developments. Fluidity is a way to question the ideals of Thatcherism; the hierarchy of institutes of ownership and private property over that of “commons”, or institutes of public ownership or tenancy. As well overcoming the technological and political obstacles, the Liquid Institute fosters a new and positive architectural language for living with water. The Liquid Institute shows really, what it takes to provide affordable, self-build and social housing on water. 

Prologue: Peabody Towers Saved 

The Peabody Estate, Thamesmead, famous for its appearance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), has been rescued from demolition. The joint efforts of Boris Johnson, residential protest and the overarching guidance of The Liquid Institute managed to sway its destruction from the hands of developers. However, this all occurred in quite an unconventional manner.

The Peabody Trust housing association estate in Thamesmead had its head in the noose from the beginning of 2016. The Prime Minister David Cameron announced that government would be funding an investigation into identifying the U.K.’s worst sink estates. The worst of these estates would then be demolished and rebuilt, to suit the needs demonstrated by the current political agenda. The demolition at Thamesmead had been given the green-light in spite of the cold appeal of its residents and politically opposed members of the public. The Thamesmead Peabody estates were selected as one of the ‘sink’ estates and it was proposed that this was the site be flattened and made available to the developer, Lend Lease, who planned to build luxury waterside apartments in place of the social housing estate.

Consequently, this led to public uproar and local residents started a campaign to sue the Government for the retroactive continuation that they had been imposed upon them. But, with international support their lawsuit was successful and the Government was obliged to re-home the residents within a 2 kilometer radius of their previous homes, since the Government had already sold the site to an anonymous developer, now known to be Lend Lease. The repercussions of the lawsuit meant that a new way to house the residents was needed. With the input of Boris Johnson, he referred the consultants to the Liquid Institute.

It was then proposed that a complete Peabody Tower be relocated 50m from land onto a large floating pontoon position in the Southmere Lake. Inevitably, this could not house all of the residents, thus a network of low-rise floating pontoon houses were also incorporated into the scheme. These houses were built by the residents and were largely inspired by Walter Segal’s “Essential Method”.

Although the Government suffered some losses due to the lawsuit. Overall, money was saved from relocating the Peabody residents onto water.

All in all, this unique sequence of events may serve as precedence for effectively dealing with bankside social housing under risk, a method that can meet everyone’s needs. Only time will tell and generations to come will hope this somewhat remarkable occurrence will become the saviour of bankside communities.

Umbilical Systems: We are part of the earth and it’s part of us 

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you sell them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people… We are part of the earth and it is part of us… The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” [1]

Waters; oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, are not simply H2O but they are life itself. The amniotic fluid, the blood, and the history running through all living organisms. Yet, the human race have lost a vital connection to the omnipotence of the natural world. Environmental damage brought on by the growth of global capitalism cannot easily be undone but there may be more harmonious strategies for living symbiotically with nature in the contemporary world. [2]

By 2080, it is predicted that the cost of flood damage in the UK could increase 20-fold to more than 20 billion unless adequate funds are put into flood d5efences and preventing coastal erosion.[3] If global-warming related flooding is a certainty, surely it is vital for the human race to find ways to become more adaptable to an extreme and volatile climate? Politicians, with no sense of consciousness beyond their political term seem to be walking future generations deeper into irreversible environmental and architectural crises. [4] Could building a new architectural language that works with water provoke political and environmental change?

In the past we have witnessed counter-cultures and alternative ways of living develop through anarchism, nihilism, and exodus. The failure of these utopias are also widely documented.[5] Today, an aspirational younger generation are becoming increasingly aware of the realities of being chained to the capital (for access to jobs, communities, networks, cultural fulfilment). Though trapped between a rock and a hard place, this generation must find ways to build and to make, unifying creatives practices through architecture in order to to regain control of the environment that they inhabit.

Back to Business

Increasingly around the world, we are seeing water-related architectural and urban planning schemes moving from “freak” architecture to accepted strategies for climate-change ready buildings and communities. Floodable urban spaces, flood resistant buildings, elevated buildings, floating communities, amphibious housing, and entire sea-steading states are some of the groundswells that are gaining recognition. However, the governmental responses to the recent widespread floods in Yorkshire, are not adequate. Pumping 50 million into short-term flood defences has been recognised as mere “sticking plaster” when it could have been an opportunity to drastically re-think how flooding is dealt with in the UK. [6] On the contrary, it is “back to business” as usual. Likewise, we are also witnessing “back to business” (but with a vengeance) approach to economic and architectural


1. Moving a 7600 ton apartment building to create a boulevard, Romania. 
2. Social housing demolition collage, Umi Baden Powell 
3. The Deluge by Michelangelo
4. Floating Pontoon House in transit, unknown date.
5. The Last Polar Bear, 2012.
6. The Freedom Ship, “no need to set foot on land”, Freedom Ship International, 1990s.


1. Research by JLL indicates only 12% London’s workers aged 22-39 can afford to buy on their own, based on a typical 20% mortgage deposit.
2. Based on the same JLL research, the proportion of London workers aged 22-39 able to afford Pocket’s one bedroom houses doubles, from 12% to 22.5%.1.     Chief Seattle letter to the US govt, http://www.ascensionnow.co.uk/chief-seattles-letter-to-the-american-president-1852.html 2.     http://www.r-e-a.net/upload/uk-solar-beyond-subsidy-the-transition.pdf
3. http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/david-nixons-floating-habitats/8628963.fullarticle
5. The 60’s Communes: Hippies and Beyond (Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution) Paperback – 31 Dec 1999
6.http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article4655149.ece 7.     The Seeds of Time (1996), Frederic Jameson’s in Peter Keiller’s Impossibility of Survival on the planet 8.     http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4ea96f5e-bde6-11e4-9d09-00144feab7de. html#axzz3wvjIlMdw