04.–07.06.2023 #immcologne

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Self-sufficient, sustainable, floating

The water city as the concept for tomorrow’s homes

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Climate change and population growth are among the major challenges of our time. Rising sea levels threaten coastal cities and are taking away the very thing that is essential to solving the housing shortage: land. The industry is therefore developing innovative concepts to make better use of the existing space and conserve resources. Alongside the vertical village, the floating city is one such solution: a self-sustaining urban community living on the water.

Futuristic buildings with extraordinary designs and shapes could make life on the sea a reality. (Photo: Ethan P on Unsplash)

The history of the water city

There’s actually nothing new about living on the sea. Zhujiajiao, the Venice of Shanghai, was built around 1,700 years ago and is one of the best-preserved water towns in the world. A good 30,000 people live there today. For centuries, the Uru, an indigenous people from Peru and Bolivia, have used natural materials to build islands that can house families of ten people on Lake Titicaca. And in the late 1950s, the Japanese architect Kiyonori Kikutake designed the Marine City, which was to have space for factories and up to 50,000 people.

Today the floating city is first and foremost an answer to the consequences of global warming. This is why architects across the world are designing floating, self-sufficient cities with sustainable power generation and water and food production.

New concepts for floating cities

One prototype has been put forward by the US company Oceanix . The self-sustaining city will be based off the coast of Busan, South Korea, and connected to the mainland via bridges. The islands will rise and fall with the water, making them safe even in a strong swell. Another example comes from the Netherlands: The architectural firm Waterstudio is working with the Maldives government to plan a floating water city inspired by corals off the coast of Malé. The islands’ structure and the artificial coral reefs attached to their underside are designed to protect them from large waves.

Kalvebod Brygge by the Copenhagen architects’ practice JDS resembles a ship. The two pipe-shaped modules are joined by a footbridge and can be extended in any way imaginable.

Rougerie + Tangram are taking a different approach with their design for Monaco’s harbour. The 275,000 m2 district will be built on concrete slabs and anchored to the sea floor by giant pillars, with the aim being to optimally protect the natural environment.

Extending over the blue of the ocean, these are the unique features and contours of Oceanix, an innovative floating city. (Photo: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group)

Living self-sufficiently thanks to the sea’s resources

The designs may differ in their approaches and scales. But they are all united by the idea of creating more living space and focusing on sustainability. One of the guiding principles is the blue economy, a concept that promotes the use of marine resources, such as seawater, while maintaining the ecological balance. In a water city, it might look like this:

Rainwater and seawater are treated with the aid of filtration and desalination plants to ensure supplies of drinking water. The need for electricity is met by solar power systems and wind turbines. Instead of supplying residents from the mainland, fruit and vegetables are grown locally – in vertical, aeroponic or hydroponic farms without soil. Waste is recycled and fed back into the material cycle. Transportation in floating cities takes the form of bicycles and shared mobility concepts.

Building and living sustainably

Self-sufficient water cities will not just be sustainably managed – they will also be built sustainably. To reduce weight and be as climate-neutral as possible, natural materials such as bamboo , wood, clay or limestone will be used – an alternative that is also taking off in the interior design industry, as furniture made from algae and other regrowing raw materials demonstrates.

According to a WWF study, every year up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans. If people start to build their lives on the sea, they would be directly affected by this rubbish. This could result in a huge boost for initiatives to reduce waste. PET bottles can be used to thermally insulate houses, for example, or to produce furniture, such as the Felt conference chair by Vepa.

Last but not least, the global shortage of raw materials and space is forcing the construction and interior design industries to rethink. Floating cities, hempcrete or floating office furniture – innovative concepts are essential if we are to overcome the challenges of our time.

Floating cities will be entirely self-sustaining or powered by renewable energies. (Photo: Enrique on Pexels)

A fluid transition

Self-sufficient floating cities could make sustainable life on the sea a reality. Exciting concepts and prototypes already exist. Now they need to be implemented. The industry is in the midst of a transformation, as the large number of approaches based on sustainability and modular systems demonstrate. Stay up to date on this and other topics by subscribing to the magazine by imm cologne newsletter.