Before the Flood
Charlotte Vaudrey -- Interior Design, 8/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Walk along the quiet waterways of Schagen, a small town 30 miles north of Amsterdam, and an extraordinary sight sails into view. Moored canal-side is a boat with a bow so distinctive that Old Testament visions flash through the mind. "It's just like Noah's ark!" one visitor exclaims.
The 230-foot Ark van Noach is, in fact, a replica of the one from Genesis. Designed and built by Huibers Aannemersbedrijf, the three-deck vessel is the brainchild of Johan Huibers, a carpenter and a believer. "Fifteen years ago, I had a nightmare that my hometown was flooded," he recalls. "I woke up with the idea for a way I could teach people about God."
Filled with life-size plastic animals, made in the Philippines, and storyboards detailing selected biblical events, the ark is intended to travel through the Netherlands as a visitor center for children. "It's to get them thinking and talking about God and the Bible," Huibers says.
This seems to be an Ark Moment. One appears in the movie Evan Almighty, a church-lite comedy with an environmental message. At the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects recently built an ark to teach children about diversity and community. The ark at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, aims to combat the evils of Darwinism.
The "very cool thing" about the Huibers ark, one visitor remarks, is the no-preaching aspect. Indeed, screams of delight can be heard as children race by the double-height "cage" of a 16-foot-tall giraffe, her dainty feet planted on the ark's middle level and her cheeky head popping up on the top deck.
As you cross the gangway into the sharply pine-scented belly of the ark, it seems inconceivable that the colossal volume was built almost entirely by one person. (Huibers's son, 18, helped during school holidays.) But the visionary carpenter dismisses the hardships such manual toil might bring. "If I have a hammer in my hand," he says, "I'm happy."
Huibers began by purchasing 1,200 local pine trees, which he sawed into planks for the ark's interior, and importing weatherproofed American red cedar for the main structure and decking. Needing no drawings, he simply relied on instructions laid out in his trusty Bible. Then he added a couple of updates: an iron barge hull to stabilize the boat and a glass-enclosed elevator to connect all three levels inside.
He self-financed the $1.2 million project by borrowing against his carpentry business. Aided by his wife, Bianca—who took over the company "while he 'arked,'" she says—he completed his dream boat in under two years.
In the low-lying Netherlands, always at risk from rising sea levels, Huibers's project might seem prophetic. Its creator, however, remains optimistic. "I'm not Al Gore," he states. "Nor am I afraid of a big flood. The Dutch government is wise enough to raise dikes if necessary." Besides, if the waters do rise, the Schagen city council would prohibit neighbors from seeking refuge aboard the ark: It doesn't meet standards for inhabited space.