Abu Dhabi

Why not exit the skyscraper and move into a houseboat?

Anjana Sankar /Abu Dhabi
anjana@khaleejtimes.com Filed on March 10, 2017
Why not exit the skyscraper  and move into a houseboat?

The UAE is coming up with floating homes that have more than novelty going for them

The sky-high prices of the Abu Dhabi rental market have left many expatriates in deep water.

But a boat-obsessed aquaphile like Berend Lens van Rijn is someone who knows exactly how to stay afloat - in the literal sense.

The Dutch expat with over a decade of experience in marine business, is designing a floating community with over 50 houseboats in Reem Island, Abu Dhabi. One of them will be for himself and his family - his wife and eleven-month-old twins.

"It will have everything you can dream of in a beautiful house. They are self-sustainable, solar-powered houses that will also desalinate and recycle water," said Berend who owns a marine management company, Belevari Marines.

The first of the lot, a show villa, is in the design stages, and once completed, will be the size of a 40-foot catamaran which translates into a 120-square-metre two-bedroom duplex, complete with a lounge, deck, kitchen and a technical or storage room

And why did he come up with the idea of floating abodes in Abu Dhabi?

"When I came here in 2004, a two-bedroom apartment was Dh80,000. Now it has shot up to around Dh140,000. So owning a second-hand boat or living in a boat is very cost effective. It is a nice thing to have something of your own when you pack up and leave the country," said Berend who has already supplied several live-aboard boats to UAE residents.

He said living on a boat makes absolute financial sense and there is a growing interest in the country.

"The estimated cost of a cube villa, as we call it because the design is that of a cube, would cost less than Dh1 million, which is much lower than any available waterfront real estate property in Abu Dhabi".

What Berend envisions is not a conventional boathouse.  "It will be like a yacht but with more of a square-shaped design that will optimise space inside. Comfort is key, as it has to feel like a proper home."

"In Holland," he says, "we have more than 20,000 floating homes. There are houseboat companies that have been in the business for 50 years. So I thought why not import that expertise and technology, and combine it with the UAE's unique market needs."

And all that he had to do was fuse his passion with his entrepreneurial skills.

"First I have to prove the concept. Once the show villa is ready, I have something tangible to show buyers."

Berend's ambitions of changing the way people live in the UAE does not stop with the Reem Island cube houses.

He has also established a company called Belevari Floating Properties that is currently developing floating tourism villas in the Dubai World Islands (called the Nautilus floating villa project). His team of architects and designers will design and build luxurious three-bedroom floating villas. With a floating pool. The three-storey sustainable off-grids villas will have open terraces, attached pool and of course, sweeping views of the water.

But how safe is living on a floating surface? "It is super stable. It will not move. The floating home is basically built with floating hollow concrete boxes that will act as the stable foundation and basement. That will ensure that the centrepoint of gravity will be lower and hence give great stability," explained Berend

And there is no better way to vouch for the feasibility and livability of the housing boats than Berend himself moving into one.

I have my twins, and hence safety is my first priority. Our villa on the Reem Island will have two cubes connected by a courtyard. There is a safety rail around the home, so that kids cannot go anywhere near the water. If something happens to them, I know my wife will kill me," said Berend, rather humorously.



Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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