Floating Cities | RELOADED

The concept of creating permanent dwellings at sea has been a topic studied for so long, not only as scientific research but also as Sci-Fi proposals to inhabitat artificial islands, huge floating machines or abandoned oil platforms. As we recently commented, it is just as if we want to keep alive Jonathan Swift‘s dream to inhabitat Laputa, the fictional flying island with an adamantine base, that can be maneuvered by its inhabitants in any direction using magnetic levitation.

But this time we’re not going to space, we want to talk about the concept of floating cities at the sea. Until now, no one has yet succeeded at creating a state on the high seas that has been recognized as a sovereign nation; the closest is perhaps the Principality of Sealand, a disputed micronation formed on a discarded sea fort near Suffolk. Maybe all these artificial islands, huge floating machines or abandoned oil platforms are indeed the current floating cities that has inspired projects as the Freedom Ship, that represents the concepts of a mobile modern city:

Envision an ideal place to live or run a business, a friendly, safe and secure community with large areas of open space and extensive entertainment and recreational facilities. Finally, picture this community continually moving around the world. You are beginning to understand the Freedom Ship concept of a massive ocean-going vessel. With a design length of 4,500 feet, a width of 750 feet, and a height of 350 feet, Freedom Ship would be more than 4 times longer than the Queen Mary.

Some floating cities were designed by the Metabolist Movement in the 60s:

Floating City on Lake Kasumigaura by Noriaki Kurokawa

Kenzo Tange’s plan for Tokyo Bay

A Plan for Tokyo [1960], designed by Kenzo Tange is another interesting project that we can see as a background and was published and presented by Tange at the Tokyo World Design Conference. The plan proposed a linear organized matrix for Tokyo Bay, which was to be an extension of the uncontrolled expansion of the city proper. This urban matrix was an adaptation of Kenzo Tange’s architectural notions of structural order, expression, and urban “communication space.”

Sea City 2000 [1979]. Project from the book Future Cities: Homes and Living into the 21st Century

Buckminster Fuller designed this tetrahedronal floating city for Tokyo bay in the 1960’s

Buckminster Fuller wrote about the Triton City in his book A Study of a Prototype Floating Community:

Three-quarters of our planet Earth is covered with water, most of which may float organic cities. Floating cities pay no rent to landlords. They are situated on the water, which they desalinate and recirculate in many useful and non-polluting ways. They are ships with all an ocean ship’s technical autonomy, but they are also ships that will always be anchored. They don’t have to go anywhere.

There are many different design solutions to go on with the idea of aquatic living and there are existing resources that can be used to that means. Some of them are huge floating megastructures like the ship used to transport the LNG terminal for offshore liquefied natural gas. This Adriatic LNG terminal will receive natural gas produced from Qatar’s North Field, which has resources of more than 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a long route to follow. Another floating megastructures that we can name here are the lift vessel MV Blue Marlin, that was used to transport the Sea Based X-Band Radar [SBX] in a journey from Corpus Christi [Texas] to Pearl Harbor [Hawaii]; or the Pegasus Barge used by the NASA for the transportation of the Space Shuttle external fuel tanks to Kennedy Space Center.

The Pegasus Barge

The MV Blue Marlin with the Sea Based X-Band Radar

Outside the Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km), the high seas are not subject to the laws of any sovereign nation other than the flag under which a ship sails. Examples of organizations using this possibility are Women on Waves, enabling abortions for women in countries where abortions are subject to strict laws, and Radio Veronica, a pirate radio station sailing the North Sea. Like these organizations, a seastead might be able to take advantage of the looser laws and regulations that exist outside the sovereignty of nations, and be largely self-governing.

So, architects are constantly thinking in proposals for new floating micronations with the infrastructures mentioned above. All these background makes understandable that projects such as Anthony Lau’s competition entry won a prize by the Royal Institute of Architects for sustainable design, with a proposal for off-shore living with re-used marine structures. Laus proposes to reuse old oil platforms for the regenaration of the Thames Estuary, including mobile infrastructures as floating sports stadiums and recycled ships from which the Floating City will be built upon.

Floating City by Anthony Lau. Detail

There has been some speculative projects designed in the last decade that are really interesting, like all the speculative projects worked by Vincent Callebaut, where he mixes biology with information and communication technologies to design what he calls “the new Ecopolis” using parasitical strategies. Some of his floating cities arethe Lilypads or Floating Ecopolis for Climate Refugees and The Floating Islands, that are is a project of transformation of the Landscape with the objective to develop a new image of the site by the construction of a “programmatic geography”.

Vincent Callebaut, The Floating Islands

Also intriguing is the project Happy Isles, a series of new, sprayed-up sand islands off the coast of Belgium and The Netherlands. As read:

These dune islands, measuring up to 150.000 hectares in size, will break the increasing waves […] On the biggest island, Hollandsoog, 150.000-200.000 ha. in size, a broad representation of the community will be able to obtain a lease. The economy of this island will be based on leisure and nature experience; a happy island for family, lonely-hearts, poets and festivals.

Happy Islands. First seen thanks to @tutuytu

The point here is to think and re-think if we really need all these new artificial islands or floating cities, now that our territories are suffering from the environmental effects of climate change and cities are undergoing trough the biggest urban sprawl in decades. We need to think if we should create these new territories, knowing that in the future thay can be transformed into dystopic landscapes if we continue with our current individual behaviour and its important consequences in the process of co-evolution between techno-sphere and the biosphere. Should we try to construct them or should we leave these projects as utopias?

This post was updated on May 11th to include Kenzo Tange’s plan for Tokyo Bay, image and brief text. Thanks to the comment [below] posted by Léopold Lambert, our friend from boiteaoutils.


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