Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Floating Cities

What is it about water that makes architecture all the more mesmerizing? Is it because of the blue-and-green jewel tones? Because it blurs the line between earth and sea? Because it reminds us of our connection to nature? Or is it because of the balance of the measurable and geometric with the endless and organic? Perhaps it is all of the above. But whatever the reason might be, it is apparent that we, as humans, admire the pairing of architecture and water.

In 1934, when Frank Lloyd Wright visited Bear Run, Pennsylvania, he stated that, the “visit to the waterfall in the woods stays with me and a domicile takes shape in my mind to the music of the stream.” From that impactful visit, Wright went on to design and realize Fallingwater, a modern vacation house built on top of a 30-foot waterfall. The house would appear on the cover of TIME magazine in 1938, which declared it Wright’s “most beautiful job,” and in 2007, the American Institute of Architects named it the “best all-time work of American architecture.” In recent years, more brazen architects have started to make the seas, rivers and lakes integral parts of their designs, and in the following list, we share several of the most innovative water-related architecture projects of the past, present and future.


Water architecture

Set on a bluff above Atami, Japan, WaterGlass is an attempt to “connect architecture and the sea.” The house is made of glass walls that offer sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The oval dining room, connected to the rest of the house by a glass corridor, floats in a pool of water. The outdoor infinity-edge pool flows into the ocean below. Japanese architecture firm Kengo Kuma & Associates realized the home in 1995. “Architecture can never be closed off completely. That is the premise of my work,” Kengo Kuma once wrote. “One may enclose space with walls and bury it underground, but architecture is always situated in—and connected to—the world. More precisely, architecture is a device mediating between the subject (that is, mankind) and the world.”

WaterGlass in Atami Japan

Water Pavilion

Water Pavilion in South Korea

Daniel Valle’s proposal for the Water Pavilion, in South Korea, “explores various water principles and the translation into an architectural experience.” It stands at sea level, which changes with the tides, so the pavilion is sometimes submerged, with only a few entrances, and at other times, is above water (so that people can walk on the roof-deck as seen above).

Water Pavilion submerged walkway

Underwater walkway at the Water Pavilion

Floating House

Floating House in Lake Huron Canada

On an island on Lake Huron, in Canada, the Floating House rests on a steel pontoon structure, which allows it to fluctuate with the lake’s seasonal water levels. “I like the gentle rocking of it, and I love being right on the water,” the homeowner told Dwell magazine in an interview. “I woke up one morning and there were a bunch of kayakers right out the window. It’s like you’re on a boat.” The house was constructed in 2005 by MOS architects.

Floating concrete structure

 Interior design of Floating House by MOS architects

Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, set on small Saadiyat Island (the Island of Happiness), is intended to recall the “importance of water in Islamic culture.” It looks as if it is floating on water, with a perforated dome that extends out over it. The light and movement of the water casts shadows inside, which also features an interior water channel. It was designed by Jean Nouvel—the iconic French architect also responsible for Torre Agbar in Barcelona—and will open this year.

Floating house of Louvre Abu Dhabi

Jean Nouvel Louvre Abu Dhabi

Waterworld Hotel

Waterworld Hotel in Songjiang China

Embedded into a quarry in Songjiang, China, this 400-room hotel will include stunning views of the water—both above and below it. There is a rooftop garden on top of the hotel, as well as underwater public areas and cafés, and a waterfall encased in glass. The hotel was designed by Atkins Architecture Group, and won the top prize at a recent international design competition.

Rooftop garden on the Waterworld Hotel