I am standing in the living room of a stand-alone, three-bedroom home in Dubai. Sunlight streams through the slits of the louvre wooden panels. The open-plan, high-ceiling, marine-inspired interior looks out onto a patio and the private swimming pool.
As I’m caught up in a brief reverie that involves the words dream house, I catch sight of a trio of wire lamps installed over the dining table, which are gently swaying from side to side. That’s odd, given that the sliding French doors are bolted shut, the air-conditioning is turned off and the day outside is clear and still. Or so I think for a second, before I snap back to reality and remember that this is, in fact, a water home, bobbing about on the Dubai Canal.
“You have to be quite sensitive to feel the effect that the tide, such as it is on the canal, has on these homes,” says architect Sasan Niknam, whose firm U&A worked with Dubai Properties to bring floating realty to the UAE. The real estate group is the developer of Marasi Water Homes, a series of 10 floating properties now ready to move into on the stretch of the Dubai Canal that passes through Business Bay.
The concept of floating real estate is not uncommon in many parts of Europe, such as Amsterdam, Helsinki and Hamburg – cities known for their canal systems – with homes sitting both alongside and on the water. With the recent opening of the Dubai Canal – and given the city's penchant for firsts – the water homes make for a topical development. And in true UAE fashion, the houses sit in the luxury bracket, as opposed to their European counterparts, which tend to be low-cost. The above-water section of the Marasi Water Homes, for all intents and purposes, is reflective of high-end Dubai living. It's constructed from top-notch materials, comes equipped with smarthome technology, has views of the Burj Khalifa, and offers easy access to Dubai Mall and Downtown. Underneath the surface, though, the homes essentially work like a boat.
“The brain and heart of each house lies underwater,” explains Niknam. “It works like any other ship. We’ve got tanks for sewage and other waste hidden underneath, and hatches to access them. The house is affixed to a sturdy steel structure that uses state-of-the-art SeaFlex anchoring, with meticulous calculations made as to how to keep it afloat.” A reassuring piece of information, this, considering the recent headlines about a temporary floating house structure sinking near Burj Al Arab earlier this month.
"I would not recommend that these homes be placed in the Gulf, where there are waves and rough winds. The canal is another matter, plus each unit can float by itself," adds Niknam. "In fact, when they arrived at Port Rashid, they were simply tied by rope to boats and floated down to their present location."
The homes entered UAE waters aboard a container vessel from Finland, where they were put together by Admares, a team of contractors who specialise in floating construction.
"Because the concept of the water home is new to the UAE, and in keeping with the brief for high-end homes, we created the sketches for the luxury residences in Dubai, which were then implemented up to 90 per cent in the workshop of the Finnish company, which has purpose-built facilities," he explains.
According to a spokesperson from Dubai Properties, prior to the Marasi Water Homes, there was no licensing code for floating realty in the UAE, and the canal was not built to host such structures. The company liaised with the authorities to come up with all the necessary provisions, and has taken over the twice-weekly cleaning of this part of the canal.
The homes themselves are all two storeys tall, and available in two-, three- and four-bedroom formats, with one bedroom, the living room, kitchen and patio on the lower level, and the remaining rooms and a landing on the level above. While the promenade-facing side is made completely private with the help of opaque white façade panels, the patio that faces the canal is open-air. “The plans were drawn up keeping in mind the elements of living on the water, and we assume that owners will be those who appreciate a harbour-style life,” says Niknam. Accordingly, the units come with their own pools, separated from the swimmable waters of the canal by a low-hanging glass wall.
"What we wanted to achieve with the overall design was in keeping with an actual boat, in that every nook and corner has been utilised to its maximum effect. So in the two-bedroom houses, we have designed a box wall in the living room, which has the open kitchen on one side and the powder bathroom on the other," he says.
It doesn’t look at all cramped, though, and Niknam confirms that the homes span between 1,615 square feet and 2,690 square feet. The two-bedroom house is designed to resemble a loft, while the bigger formats have an en-suite maid’s room, walk-in wardrobes and an additional terrace on the upper level. The units come unfurnished, but are currently set-up with plush show furniture in place, to give potential buyers decor cues.
Every home includes a private berth for a yacht of up to 55 feet, which can be parked adjacent to the property itself, and accessed via a direct entrance on the wrap-around deck that borders each home. Bigger vessels can be moored at a discounted rate on the Marasi Marina, a few steps away. The community also has its own concierge service and will soon welcome a floating restaurant and yacht club.
The walkway surrounding the marina is already bustling with life: joggers and patrons of nearby bars and restaurants, including the newly opened Park House, curiously eye the structures floating a mere few feet away (yet they are inaccessible to outsiders without a security card). "Are you moving into one of those water homes? What does it look like inside?" one of them asks me. Having been on the other side of the glass door that separates promenade from pied-à-terre, I can confirm the thought of owning one of these luxury houseboats had me floating on cloud nine.