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Amsterdam's Bold Housing Solution: 10 Artificial Islands

To create the islands, the Dutch use a technique called the “pancake method.”
Amphibious houses floating in the harbor of the IJburg neighborhood in Amsterdam, in 2012.
Amphibious houses floating in the harbor of the IJburg neighborhood in Amsterdam, in 2012.AP Photo/Margriet Faber

Right now, Amsterdam’s Center Island (Centrumeiland in Dutch) doesn’t look like much—just an inhospitable sand bar poking out from the city into the huge IJmeer Lake. But there’s far more to it than meets the eye at present. The island, in use for the first time this summer as a campsite-cum-art installation, is in fact an entirely artificial creation, lying at the heart of what could currently be Europe’s boldest engineering and housing program. This sand bar will become one of 10 new residential islands rising from the depths of the IJmeer. In a distinctively Dutch move, Amsterdam is not only planning for future expansion by building a network of model neighborhoods to expand into—it has actually constructed the ground on which those neighborhoods will stand.

Construction of this new archipelago, called the IJburg, began in 1997, and so far six of the total 10 planned islands are complete. To construct the islands, the Dutch used a technique they call the “pancake method.” When an island is built-up this way, porous screens are placed in the water to hold the island’s shape and sand is sprayed into the screens to form a layer of batter-like sludge. As this layer settles and drains through the fine mesh, it hardens and another layer of sand is sprayed on top. Pancake by pancake, the island rises until it is two meters above the water level.