Two College Friends Create India’s First Amphibious Building That Floats on Flood Waters

Nanma Gireesh and Ben K George are the founders of the Kerala-based startup NestAbide that engineers amphibious buildings that float in flood water.

In 2018, it was destructive monsoon days in Kerala that led to tragic floods that took the lives of more than 400 people, and thousands of families lost their hard-earned houses.

There are still families sheltered in refugee camps and orphanages due to having had their houses destroyed.

In the meantime, there were several discussions taking place to research and implement technologies that could resist floods and other monstrous natural calamities.

Consequently, in 2018, the duo launched their startup, NestAbide, which designs flood-resistant technologies and amphibious models.

It is the only company across India to develop amphibious housing plans and life-changing technologies for people. After a couple of years, in 2021, the duo built Amphi Nest, India’s first working model of amphibious building technology with a concrete foundation.

 Nanma had even started her thesis before the floods, and she got great appreciation when she presented it post-floods.

“The floods made people look for construction technologies that can combat such natural calamities and it was a hot discussion at that point. It was the reason why I received so much appreciation while presenting my thesis,” Nanma tells TBI.

Since floods are a yearly phenomenon in a state like Kerala, this project has a lot of relevance in the state.

How It All Started

The young entrepreneurs, Nanma and Ben, were pursuing post-graduation in translational engineering together at the famous Barton Hill Government Engineering College, Trivandrum, and that’s how they met. Both have recognised each other since they had a vision of working for a cause together. 

“It was rather a mission to promote amphibious living by adapting to live with the water instead of fighting against it,” says Ben.

Unofficially, the startup was launched in October 2018 without revenue or capital funding. They hired a small team, and on the other hand, the duo pursued their research on amphibious houses.

After graduation, they both worked at the college where they had studied while also conducting research. They have used their salaries to pay their two team members who were hired for the research. It went on for over a year until they left their jobs in 2019. Soon after, in October 2019, they officially registered the startup “NestAbide.”

Challenges Turned Opportunities

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they concentrated full-time on their startup. “We started doing projects on flood modelling of rivers to identify when the flood extends when dams open or rivers flood. This was done in partnership with a private company for the Kerala Water Authority, “says Nanma.

The duo has also worked on an International project, the Amphibious and Floating building research, which was funded by the Canadian government through the National Research Council of Canada and in partnership with the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

Meanwhile, they were going ahead with their startup’s research projects.

In the year 2021, the startup went on to build a working prototype of an amphibious building in a village in Kerala. “Amphi Nest was an effort to show to the masses how the amphibious building stays on land like any conventional home and only floats when the floodwaters arrive. It was inaugurated by Shri P Prasad, Kerala’s Minister for Agriculture,” says Ben to TBI.

“We used our funds to build it. The prototype pavilion of 200 sq ft including the space inside the concrete hollow box costs around Rs 3 lakh,” says Nanma adding that the prototype was featured on BBC’s World Podcast, ‘The Climate Question’.

Nanma was able to complete an internship at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands while pursuing her master’s degree.

“That’s when I first got to see the working of amphibious buildings at Maasbommel in the Netherlands. There were around 32 houses that look like ordinary houses that rest on the ground. But when the floodwaters hit, the buoyant foundation of the house lifts it,” Nanma says to TBI.

The foundations of amphibious homes are made of lightweight, buoyant concrete that can float temporarily during floods. These are supported by guidance posts or pillar components that keep them in place and prevent the house from floating away. When the water recedes, the structure will be returned to the ground.

Startup’s Wide Focus

Other than amphibious housing, NestAbide is also an architectural and structural design consultancy firm with interdisciplinary engineers, architects, science graduates, etc. With 10 full-time employees and 33 on-call consultants, the firm also focuses on other flood-resilient technologies.

In light of Nanma and Ben, amphibious housing is not only the segment NestAbide is focusing on; the startup is also an architectural and structural design consultancy firm with a group of interdisciplinary engineers, architects, science graduates, etc. Along with 10 full-time employees, there are around 33 on-call consultants who are also working with the startup. The firm also has a focus on other technologies that are flood-resistant.

Forbes features the duo

Nanma and Ben are currently pursuing their PhD programmes at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology under the mentorship of Prof. Chris Zevenbergen at TU Delft and UNESCO IHE, Delft. Interestingly, they have featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List 2022 for their well-rendered initiatives.

Currently, they are working on an amphibious housing project for the community living near the beach and lake surrounded areas of Alleppey and Munroe Island and it has been funded by KDISC (Kerala Development Innovation and Strategic Council).