Think that living in a floating city is just something out of a sc-ifi story? Well, you might be living in it soon. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the founder and creative partner of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) is working on a 124-acre floating city which will be the world’s first sustainable floating community with a man-made ecosystem designed to adapt organically over the course of time.

Now, this isn’t the first time BIG is making this kind of unorthodox project. If you’re not familiar with this architecture firm, then you might have heard about its project called Mars Science City. As you might have guessed, it’s a man-made ecosystem designed for when humanity decide to colonize the red planet.

So basically, the hexagonal-shaped floating city comprises individual units that are systematically combined to create a city. One neighborhood can take up to 300 residents. Then, six neighborhoods are clustered together to create a village that houses 1,650 residents. Those six villages are then connected to form an archipelago city that can house up to 10,000 residents or citizens.

If villages and cities have squares, this floating city has a protected central harbor where social, recreational, and commercial functions take place. The citizens will do communal farming and BIG sources building construction materials locally.

Mangrove forest damaged by rising sea level by David M. WIkimedia Commons
Mangrove forest damaged by rising sea level by David M. WIkimedia Commons

Sea levels are expected to rise and affect 90% of the world’s coastal cities by 2050. The idea behind this project is the fact that extreme weather and rising sea levels pose a threat to coastal cities. Therefore, BIG, commissioned by a company called Oceanix and working with MIT’s Center for Ocean Engineering, try to challenge that by making a place to live on the sea itself.

This floating city, called Oceanix City, was unveiled by Ingels himself at the First UN High-level Roundtable on Sustainable Floating Cities, which Oceanix co-convened with MIT, the Explorers Club and UN-Habitat, a UN offshoot mandated to work with city development.

“We’ve based it on this modular idea of a hexagonal island. It has the omni-direction of a circle but it has the modularity and rationality of something man made,” said Ingels in the roundtable discussion.

The companies will collaborate to build each module on land and then they’re going to tow the finished ones to the sea and anchored in place. If water levels somehow became too low, the cities could be easily moved because the arrangements would be flexible. Also, residents who live there won’t have to worry about hurricane, as the islands are capable to survive a category-five hurricane.

As mentioned before, BIG plans to build and construct the buildings from locally sourced materials such as wood and bamboo. Other than that, it also incorporates a number of renewable energy resources like wind and water turbines and solar panels. This city is going to have integrated food production and farming and it will follow a zero-waste policy.

Ingels said, “Every island has 3,000 square metres of outdoor agriculture that will also be designed so that it can be enjoyed as free space.”

You will find a community framework for living that includes water baths, markets, spiritual and cultural hubs in each mini village. Oceanix City is designed to be adaptable to any culture and architecture. According to Oceanix co-founder Marc Collins Chen, this city is an example of an affordable development which might offer a solution to displaced societies.

He said, “It is our goal to make sure sustainable floating cities are affordable and available to all coastal areas in need. They should not become a privilege of the rich.”

In order to keep the center of gravity, each module will have no more than seven stories structures. The buildings will also taper out as it goes higher to provide shading as well as extra roof space for solar panels. Shading is definitely needed as Oceanix is intended to be developed in sub-tropical and tropical areas, since they’re the ones at risk of flooding the most.

“The idea that we are presenting here is not that we will all be living at sea in the future. It won’t be waterworld,” said Ingels. “This is simply another form of human habitat that can be a seed, that essentially can grow with its success as it turns out to be socially and environmentally desirable to chose this lifestyle,” he continued.

Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary-general, approved of this idea. She said that floating cities could give a solution to frontier issues facing human populations.

“We must build cities for people, not cars. And we must build cities knowing that they will be on the frontlines of climate‑related risks—from rising sea levels to storms. Floating cities can be part of our new arsenal of tools.”

On the other side…

Not everybody likes the idea of this floating city. Kian Goh, an assistant professor of planning at UCLA, is a researcher on urban politics and climate-change adaptation. She said that this projects like Oceanix City “are oftentimes posed as solving some big problem, when in many ways [they’re] an attempt to get away from the kinds of social and political realities of other places.”

Amanda Hurley from Citylab argues that Oceanix doesn’t have a clear jurisdiction of any cities or country’s laws. She said, “If the city were built by private investors in the open ocean and answered to no governmental authority, it could easily become a climate haven, like a tax haven, for those who had the money to buy into it.”

Floating city might work well in some parts of the world, particularly the ones who are used to living on water like the Netherlands. Goh said that in many other places, “it’s not clear at all that retreating to these pod cities of 10,000 people each is going to solve anything.”

On one hand, 10,000 seems like a lot, especially if there are more than one floating cities. On the other hand, there’s a case like Jakarta. If the city keeps sinking at the same rate it is now, there would be about 4 to 5 million people who need relocation. If there’s a case like this, even a dozen floating cities like Oceanix won’t help much.

All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the utopian thinking that both Oceanix and BIG have. In fact, that kind of thinking is needed right now for humanity’s future. However, Hurley and Goh think that this project is a narrow, escapist, apolitical utopia, while what the world needs is a bold and capacious utopianism. Goh said, “We do need utopian visions, but the utopian visions have been wrong so far.”

What do you think about this project/idea? Do you agree or disagree? Tell us what you think in the comments below.



BIG unveils Oceanix City concept for floating villages that can withstand hurricanes

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