Due to the melting of polar ice caps, the earth has been completely overcome by oceans. Mankind gathers in small artificial islands, dreaming of a mythical and elusive mainland. Briefly told, this is the plot of Waterworld.
A project of floating cities, by the Seasteading Institute, is offering an alternative version of future housing. It’s much less dramatic than the Kevin Costner film and depends on the expertise of a global and diverse team of marine biologists, nautical engineers, farmers, medical researchers, investors, environmentalists and artists. The institute was founded in 2008 by activist, software engineer, and economics and politics theorist, Patri Friedman—grandson of Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman—and technology entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist, Peter Thiel.
The concept won’t create a utopian city, as the Netherlands’ modern history proves its feasibility. Dutch expansion toward the sea was achieved thanks to research and outstanding engineering, dedicated to the recovery of flooded land using ditches and complex hydraulic systems. And today, the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) is making progress in its artificial floating islands project.
MARIN is currently analyzing the possibility of building large interconnected triangular modules. This system allows for the creation of islands, up to 3 miles wide, with the ability to host homes, spaces and public services, docks, facilities, and self-sufficient wind, solar and tidal power systems. There’s still research and tests to do, concerning the modules’ resistance to tides and how they will be anchored to the sea floor, before building the first settlements.
As the effects of climate change continue to accelerate, floating cities are becoming more of possibility, and architecture firms and investors may begin to multiply. One such firm, Waterstudio, is the brainchild of architect Koen Olthuis, and it’s currently planning the creation of 3,000-square-foot floating islands in the Maldives, containing residencies, beaches and natural vegetation. Waterstudio, based in the Netherlands, claims these islands have as much stability as natural ones—even though they float and are made of concrete—in addition to being self-sufficient and producing their own power, thanks to solar cells and a water-treatment system.
Olthuis says that, when designing and building projects over water, it’s important to keep stability, maintenance, authority and zoning issues in mind but, above all, it’s imperative to train local contractors to keep prices lower than 10–15% over regular development costs. In this sense, logistics can make all the difference and it’s best to build the island in a yard and then ship the structure to its destination.
Today, there are around 3,000 floating houses in London’s canals, and almost 2,500 families living in floating homes along the Netherlands’ 2,700 miles of navigable rivers, canals and lakes. Architect Jorrit Houwert, founding partner of Dutch office +31Architects, which specializes in designing and bulding floating houses, considers that these types of dwellings may eventually cost as much as a house on dry land.
Unplanned growth of individual floating housing may pose challenges concerning waste treatment, power and service supplies. Solutions would lie in the production of self-sufficient cities, like MARIN’s or the Seasteading Institute’s, that ensure proper power-generation and waste-management systems and a good quality of life on the sea. ■