Seadromes… On Islands and Megastructures

Seadrome 1/300 scale model [1922] by Edward Robert Armstrong

A seadrome, concept developed by Edward Robert Armstrong, is an enormous floating islands of steel and concrete, to cover 100 or more acres and be anchored at intervals across the Atlantic. According to Armstorng’s design, it would be rise 70 feet (21 m) or more above the surface of the ocean by tubular columns that would allow waves to pass underneath. We can read the following description:

A seadrome would be a “floating landing deck,” essentially an anchored, stormproof airport and refueling station. It would ride high above the waves, moored at one end so as to trail the wind [thus always staying in the best position for landings], and be big enough to permit the landing and takeoff of most planes. It would be supported 70 feet or more above the surface by tubular columns that would allow waves to pass through underneath. The columns would terminate in ballast tanks 100 feet below the surface, where they would be stable, since waves are surface disturbances only. Armstrong said eight of them, “anchored to the bottom of the Atlantic, at intervals of approximately 350 miles,” would be enough to reach [from the US to] Europe.

We can see how engineer had influenced the avant-garde and radical architecture. If now we can see proposals to reuse abandoned oil rigs or some other that are based on the idea of recycling ships and marine structures, some of the designs of the 1960s and 1970s were based on this idea of seadromes as floating islands or floating cities. That’s why we found really provocative to talk about the seadromes and how they have been “adopted” by different disciplines, including architecture.

Floating Ocean Airports [Feb. 1934]. Source: Modern Mechanix

Project Habakkuk. Render. Source: Mondolithic

Time magazine wrote on November 27, 1933:

A perennial gift to Sunday feature editors for the last five years has been the Armstrong Seadrome, vividly imaginative project for a chain of floating airports across the Atlantic. The perfect publicity subject, it offered serious readers masses of data on construction of huge platforms, stabilized high above the waves by means of weighted pillars, on problems of anchorage, navigation, operation, economics.

The seadrome idea was also the starting point of another utopian project, the Habakkuk by Geoffrey Pyke, based on a scheme to assemble an elite unit for winter operations in Norway, Romania, and the Italian Alps, which is basically an aircraft carrier out of pykrete [a mixture of wood pulp and ice]. Pyke envisioned ships as vast and solid as icebergs. But, as we can read at Cabinet Magazine, the Habbakuk was never built anyway. Land-based aircraft were attaining longer ranges, U-boats were being hunted down faster than they could be built, and the US was gaining numerous island footholds in the Pacific—all contributing to a reduced need for a vast, floating airfield.

The idea of the seadrome as a floating island just takes us to analyze how they were part of the inspiration of some floating megastructures. Reyner Banham pointed on his book Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past that mostly all of the first megastructure designed on the first years of the avant-garde movement were inspired by piers and freight platforms, such as the Scheveningen pier in the Netherlads or the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles. So we can see that the relationship with the idea of floating cities was there, since the early megastructuralist projects.

But talking about more recent projects, we can see the evident similarities from this airport designed by M. Lurcat for the middle of the river Seine, in the midst of Paris in 1932:

To the Megafloat project in Japan, currently under construction:

So, the interesting idea here is to discuss if all this seadromes and floating islands can become new territories to be inhabited. Hernán Diáz recently wrote for the issue Islands on Cabinet Magazine an interesting article called A Topical Paradise. Here he quoted the poem “islands” written by W. H. Auden, pointing:

Auden’s inversions suggests that, wether solid or liquid, an island embodies a focus of difference. Every segment in the circumference of an island ceaselessly insist against its surroundings, exerting a centrifugal force. Not only because “it is as though the island had pushed its desert outside”, as Deleuze writes in Desert Islands, but also because it is repelling the desert that pushes in.

After this reflections, we just think: What will come next… Islands in space inspired by seadromes? It seems that we’re going on that way:

Cloud Base. Source: GoogleImages

“Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
And this full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.”

– “On This Island” by W.H. Auden


Related readings:
Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974) [Semiotext(e) / Foreign Agents] by Gilles Deleuze
Journey to the end of the night. Article about Seadromes
The Floating Island. Article about Project Habakkuk at Cabinet.
– Soundtrack: On Islands by New Musik

“I will walk around the island. Look to see if there is something to eat. Build a house from straw and wood. Carve a bow and arrow to hunt wild pigs and tigers. Look for a man to fall in love with. If I don’t find him, I’ll make one from clay and mud […] I don’t think I will make art on a desert island.”
– Keren Cytter, Cabinet Magazine [2010]

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