Visit Seattle’s Lake Union and you’ll be greeted with a wondrous sight: row after row of buildings docked neatly along the shoreline. Some look decidedly boatlike while others have the architecture of a groundbound home built right to the water’s edge. Make no mistake, though; all the houses do in fact float.
Boats have been perfecting space-saving tactics for centuries, and Seattle’s floating homes combine efficiency with a contemporary flair. There are two basic types: houseboats, which can motor around, and stationary floating homes, which can’t. The houses are docked so close together you can walk from deck to deck. Balconies and big windows make up for the lack of elbow room when your real estate contains no land whatsoever and almost no open water either.
Floating homes work as year-round housing in mild marine climates like Seattle, where heavy insulation is unnecessary (and where it rains so much you’d want to build your house as watertight as a ship anyway). They’re not cheap – sale prices compare with on-land condos twice their size – and as such they demonstrate that high-density living can be beautiful and hip. It’s an ingenious method of urban infill. The Floating Homes Association will host its next open house in September, so if you happen to be in Seattle this fall you can tour some of these masterpieces.