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Can a floating city really withstand a Cat 5 hurricane? Here are 5 questions for the company’s CEO

By John Roach
AccuWeather staff writer

The United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN Habitat) recently announced its support for the idea of a self-sustaining floating city. Oceanix, the company behind the project known as Oceanix City, is convinced the ocean-based city would be a viable solution to the housing shortage problem and the concern over rising sea levels.

The proposed city would be home to roughly 10,000 people divided into groups of six villages that each would have six platforms holding about 300 people. The platforms would be anchored by Biorock, a material created by exposing underwater minerals to electrical currents.

The floating city also would be designed to withstand severe weather conditions, including floods, tsunamis and Category 5 hurricanes, according to the company.

AccuWeather spoke to Oceanix founder and CEO Marc Collins Chen to learn how planning for severe weather factors into his company’s plans. Below is an edited version of his one-on-one interview with AccuWeather.

AccuWeather: How have you tested whether a floating city could withstand such extreme weather?

Marc Collins Chen: Our approach is that it would be irresponsible to build any sort of new infrastructure without taking into account the new [weather] data that we have. Extreme weather is here; depending on whose data you read, either the storms are getting stronger or more frequent, one or the other. But we need to take it into consideration for the building code of these new infrastructures.

Our thinking around extreme weather is it’s here, it’s happening and it can’t just be business as usual. Think back about the house that survived [Hurricane Michael] in Mexico Beach. It was more expensive [to build], but if you think about it, if all of the houses there had been built to that [type of] code, how would it have been different?

Here’s how I see it in terms of survivability. If you look at the Saffir-Simpson [hurricane] wind scale, at Category 5, you’re very clearly facing catastrophic damage. But here’s the secondary issue: the power outages can literally last, well, look at Puerto Rico, that was 11 months. Why? Because power lines are outdoors, trees fall on them and you know what happens next. The other catastrophic thing after these weather events is obviously standing water. Think about Mozambique and what’s going to happen now. There are health hazards.

So you take all of that into account – and we’re working with the experts at the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering – and you ask, how are these floating cities going to fare in this sort of event? We’re looking at two things.

We’re looking obviously at saving lives and making sure there are shelters on these floating cities where people are completely safe from the wind…. What’s important is the safety and security of everybody onboard and I believe we have some thinking and solutions that we can at least make sure everybody is safe.

But then the day after, what’s really important is all of your systems. So that means you need your freshwater [systems] to be up and running, your electrical grid to still be up and your sewage treatment [working]– the last thing you want is for everybody to have a sewage problem.

So we’re approaching this from a design perspective… And that’s what our partnership with the United Nations is about – what are the best practices and what can we learn, and how do we future weatherproof these floating cities? That’s our objective.

This is science, so it works by iteration. You have to do the first one, try it out – now all of this gets tested first in 3D computer models, and in wind tunnels and in wave pools before it gets put out there. That’s our thinking.

AW: When preparing for catastrophes, you could use the Japanese nuclear power plant disaster as an example of a worst-case scenario on top of a worst-case scenario. Can you handle a Category 5 hurricane followed by a tidal wave as happened there? Are you planning for those type of events followed by another catastrophe?

MCC: They are. So again, I’m really happy about this partnership with MIT… I’ll tell you where our project is limiting; it does limit as to where these future floating cities will be positioned. We’re thinking about being close to major coastal megacities because, according to the UN, by 2050, nine out of 10 megacities will be coastal cities. A megacity is 10 million-plus. Those are the cities that today have the greatest need for affordable housing. Huge, huge demand for affordable housing. We’re going to [have a world population of] 9.7 billion in 2050.

Every mayor in every coastal city has someone who’s responsible for figuring out what to do in case of weather, in case of flooding, in case of sea level rises. Every city is thinking: What do I build next? Do I retreat? Do I just basically stop giving building permits for anything in the flood zone? Cities have responded by allowing land reclamation, which is really bad for the environment when you dump sand into the ocean and hope it holds. It makes things worse…

Where I’m from in French Polynesia, we have the understanding that nature will always beat us. So you work with it and not against it. You don’t try to build a wall to protect yourself from the ocean because it’s not going to work.

So it’s more about what does this future world look like? Extreme weather for me is not only the hurricanes and the sea level rise, but it is also flooding. There was a flood in 1931 in China where up to 4 million people died. There was disease and the lack of access to food and all of that …

I’m actually really eager to see in the next few years the development of sustainable floating cities, which means sustainable from energy, food, water, zero waste and all of this. But beyond just that, to see how these are going to fare in the face of this new weather. That’s critical and it’s central to everything we’re designing.

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Arkup #1: floating like a butterfly, solid as a rock

By Esthec

Floating villa, mobile yacht and stable home: Arkup #1 is all of these things. This world first was presented as the ‘next-generation floating home’ at the Miami Yacht Show earlier this year. Not only is Arkup #1 a luxury, two-storey floating villa, it also is a 22-metre, electrically propelled yacht. Another novel feature of Arkup #1 is a system of four hydraulic legs, allowing it to anchor in up to 6-metre water depths and lift the house just above the waterline. Arkup #1 then changes from a floating villa into a stable stilt house able to withstand hurricanes. The innovative ‘floating home’ has a retractable Esthec Terrace. Esthec has been involved in the development of Arkup #1 from the beginning. The architect of the floating villa, Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio.NL, is keen to continue working with Esthec on future floating home developments.

Both innovative and extremely eco-friendly, Arkup #1 is entirely CO2 neutral, off grid and self-sufficient in its energy and water supply. The floating villa is powered by solar energy and comes with a range of technical innovations including an installation for the collection and purification of rainwater.

Arkup #1 is the answer to the rise in sea levels and flooding risks, says its architect, Koen Olthuis. The water dwellings he has designed with his company Waterstudio.NL in the last 15 years have been built across the world. His drive, in his own words, is “to make cities perform better”. Olthuis: ‘Today’s cities are too static in nature: buildings are constructed in one place to last for decades. Once they are there, there is nothing you can change about the city, whereas the needs of a city change continuously. Urbanisation increases the pressure on cities, while climate change increases the risk of floods. Floating homes enable cities to make optimum and safe use of the space available: on the water.’

Focused on innovation
Arkup #1 has a retractable outdoor terrace featuring Esthec. Waterstudio.NL chose the durable terrace material not just based on its product qualities. Olthuis: ‘Of course: Esthec is extremely wear resistant and 100% recyclable. Plus it has a great feel to it. Design-wise, the decking planks look amazing. They are supplied tailor made and then put together like a puzzle. What is even more important to me than the product itself is the philosophy and the ‘spirit’ of the company. I see the same passion for improvement and innovation that we have at Waterstudio.NL in Esthec. When I first went to visit Esthec I thought I was going to meet with some flooring people, but I ended up in a laboratory. The company is not just interested in producing and installing flooring, but wants to be part of the thinking process and is very much focused on innovation. They constantly ask themselves how flooring can be made more interactive, intelligent and dynamic. For me as an architect it has been fantastic to have Esthec involved in the development of Arkup #1 from the beginning. Our close relationship will be very useful for the further development of floating houses. I am convinced that we can build on Esthec’s expertise.’

‘The sustainable and innovative quality of Arkup #1 appealed to us right away’ says Esthec Managing Director Marcel van der Spek. ‘It is also special to work on such a unique project together with a Dutch architect. We believe in his vision of dynamic cities and how floating houses play a crucial role in this. In yacht building, Esthec has already proved itself as an extremely durable decking material. It is unaffected by sun and salt water as well as easy to keep clean. Those product qualities were key in the development of Arkup #1: the outdoor terrace had to be easy to use and even easier to maintain.’

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This houseboat of the future is a $5.5 million floating mansion designed for sea level rise

By Linda Robertson
Miami Herald

The Arkup houseboat, a green-energy luxury floating home that can adapt to sea rise, docks off Palm Island near Miami Beach on Saturday, April 27, 2019. The floating house has solar panels, impact resistant windows and can withstand hurricane winds of up to 155 miles per hour. MATIAS J. OCNER MOCNER@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Why let sea rise sink your Miami lifestyle when you can go with the flow aboard the Arkup houseboat?

Arkup features the ingenious engineering feature of four hydraulic pilings that stabilize the vessel on the sea bottom or allow it to lift like a house on stilts above floodwaters, king tides and hurricane-whipped storm surges. South Florida sea levels are projected to rise 6 to 12 inches by 2030, 14 inches to nearly three feet by 2060, and 31 inches to nearly seven feet by 2100, according to the Southeast Florida Climate Change Regional Compact Sea Level Rise Work Group. Miami Beach and the Keys may be inundated first, but the entire region is recognized as one of the most vulnerable on the planet.

In this brave new waterworld, Arkup wants to keep you high and dry on your floating home.

Noah, who constructed his ark to withstand 40 days and 40 nights of apocalyptic rain and Biblical flooding, would approve. He probably could not afford the modern version, which has a sticker price of $5.5 million, but he would like the comfort, spacious bathrooms and retractable swimming platform.

Arkup, solar-powered and equipped with a rainwater-collecting-and-purifying system, is a self-sustaining home, a green adaptation for our blue future.

“It’s more like a house than a boat but you never lose the unmistakable feeling that you’re on the water,” said Nicolas Derouin, managing director of Arkup.

Arkup was designed and built in Miami by Derouin and Arnaud Luguet, two French engineers who live here and have a passion for the oceans and environmental preservation.

They have witnessed the impact of climate change and sea level rise in their adopted hometown and around the world. On Monday, Indonesia announced it will move its capital out of Jakarta, a swampy, flood-prone and drowning metropolis of 30 million people.

“It is happening before our eyes,” Derouin said. “Coastal areas are the most desirable but also the most at risk. Miami is implementing resiliency measures. We hope Arkup can be a small part of the solution.”

Derouin and Luguet were inspired by the Dutch floating communities of IJburg and Schoonschip.

“In the Netherlands, one third of the country is below sea level,” Derouin said. “They want to develop housing alternatives. Instead of fighting the water, live on it.”

Lake Union in Seattle has 500 permanently docked houseboats. Paris has restaurants, a hotel and is building a 2024 Olympic venue on the River Seine. Dubai has floating vacation homes. In San Francisco, where Sausalito has a houseboat community, the Danish firm BIG has proposed building an archipelago of floating villages connected by ferries on the bay. The Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club in Weehawken, N.J., which was devastated by Superstorm Sandy, may reinvent its marina as a houseboat haven.

“We decided to design a boat that looks and feels like Miami, is compatible with a subtropical climate and gives the owner the freedom and flexibility to move,” Derouin said.

Their ultimate goal is to create an affordable model, develop floating neighborhoods and partner with island hotels to build eco-bungalows on surrounding waters.

“We want to design small apartments on the water for students, townhouses for families,” Derouin said. “We want to create housing solutions for a broader audience. That’s the vision behind Arkup.”

Derouin and Luguet collaborated with Dutch firm Waterstudio and pioneering aqua-tect Koen Olthuis, who has designed a floating mosque, floating prison, floating spa and floating resort and helped conceptualize a proposed development of 29 private islands with lavish sustainable homes — a villa flotilla — on Maule Lake in North Miami Beach.

“He is an advocate of urban planning on the water,” Derouin said.

You may have noticed Arkup — which was unveiled at the Miami Boat Show in February — docked at Star Island and now Palm Island. You can see it from the MacArthur Causeway. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, it looks like a large glass box.

On board, it doesn’t look or feel like a boat. No rocking, for one thing. It has two air-conditioned levels, with 9-1/2-foot ceilings on the first floor and 8-1/2-foot ceilings on the second. There are three bedrooms upstairs with three full and roomy bathrooms — no cramped and tilting heads on this boat — and two balconies.

Downstairs, there’s an inviting living room, kitchen, dining area, two bathrooms and a small room with a Murphy bed that could be an office or guest quarters. Interior design is by Brazilian company Artefacto. A sliding outdoor deck adds 500 square feet of floor space when fully extended.

At the stern, the swim platform can be lowered into the water to create a mini pool. There’s a boat lift for your kayak or amphibious vehicle.

The bow deck has an outdoor kitchen and console controls for navigation and operating the 136-hp rotating electric thrusters, which emit no noise and require no diesel fuel, and the anchoring system, which allows adjustments of each piling to level the boat.

Arkup has a maximum speed of 7 knots and a range of 20 nautical miles that can be increased with additional battery banks or a backup generator.

“We can’t match the navigational capacity and speed of a yacht,” Derouin said. “You couldn’t cruise around the world, but you could use Arkup in the Bahamas or British Virgin Islands, for example.

“Our vessel is 75 feet long and 32 feet wide and we have the same livable space as a yacht that is 110 feet long. Arkup is for people who prioritize space and comfort over speed and range.”

Arkup’s steel hull and superstructure is built to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds (up to 156 mph). The 40-foot-long pilings, or spuds, enable the boat to anchor in up to 25 feet of water and elevate above the waves. The draft is five feet. It’s got a 4,000-gallon freshwater tank and an equal-sized tank for waste water. The 2,400-square-foot roof is covered with 36-kilowatt capacity solar panels that recharge the battery.

“A motor yacht is the opposite of sustainable,” Derouin said, pointing to a gigantic yacht parked behind Arkup and to passing motorboats that pause while curious passengers take a look at Arkup. “Large engines. Massive fuel consumption. Pollution. On Arkup you can live completely off the grid with no bills for energy or water. It is zero emission, carbon neutral. In this house, you don’t need to rebuild your seawalls or move your air conditioner to higher ground. Compared to the costs of a waterfront home, Arkup is competitive.”

Plus it’s got panoramic views of the downtown skyline and dolphins swimming by the side deck.

So far, the partners have one buyer and a waiting list of potential buyers who want to take the boat for a test drive.

“We’ve had an amazing response,” Derouin said. “Our clientele includes owners of private Caribbean islands who think Arkup is better than building a beach house. Or people who live full or part time in Miami and want a toy for the weekends, to take friends out on the bay. We have people who live elsewhere and Arkup would be their second or vacation home. And people who see it as their primary home, docked at a marina. It’s a luxury product for a niche market but our dream is to develop affordable versions with the same principles.”

Miamians who don’t want to flee could take to the sea. As oceans swell and coastlines shrink, trade house for houseboat.

“We need more entrepreneurs and scientists developing innovative ideas because climate change is not slowing down,” Derouin said. “Here’s one new way to live in harmony with the water.”

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Floating Homes Architectural Solutions to Sea Level Rise

By Lukasz Stepnik
Translated by Aga Zano


As we all know, when Yahweh unleashed a great flood upon humanity, he saved Noah and his family by ordering Noah to build an ark. This story was recorded not only by Jews, but also by other nations, such as the Sumerians and Mesopotamians (except their God was called Ea or Enki, and those saved from the deluge were known as Utnapishtim or Ziusudra). Clearly, they were all onto something. No wonder people of reason are preparing for another flood to come – even in Poland, too.

In the 1995 film Waterworld, Kevin Costner’s character – a fish-like mutated human sailing the endless ocean – takes his beloved Helen for an underwater journey. There, he shows her the drowned ruins of New York City. Corals cover reinforced concrete structures that look like the haunted graveyard of a once-glorious civilization that brought doom upon itself. Scarce dialogues make it difficult to deduce the exact cataclysm that resulted in the world’s submergence under water, but we can assume it was to do with melting ice caps and the immense amounts of carbon dioxide emissions that had been seeping into the atmosphere for decades.

Is the deluge coming for us?

That’s right!

Most scientific prognoses for the Earth’s future look not unlike the Kevin Costner film. This makes the screenwriters for Waterworld pioneers of environmental enlightenment, who educated the masses on the dangers of global warming. Realistic calculations estimate that by the year 2100, ocean waters will rise by 1.5 metres. The Maldives and Bahamas will disappear from maps, just like many European coastal cities and towns that offer luxury seaside vacations. Such a rise in the water level will threaten the lives of over 150 million people living in flooded areas, causing mass migration, and a radical reshuffling of the global economy and politics.

Some of these changes are now beyond remediation. Therefore, the question of time is essential. How long will humans need to adapt to this new reality? Most of the infrastructure created today, such as homes and public buildings, will most likely still exist several decades from now. Thus they should be designed with contingency planning in mind for the worst climate-change scenarios. In the meantime, it appears obvious that this is the last thing politicians and developers want to consider; they are usually interested in little else than their own short-term investment return. Even one of Poland’s most famous modern urban projects – the Wilanów suburb in Warsaw – was built entirely on a flood zone. One day, it might become a financially-attractive alternative to Venice.

Polders in Jakarta

The fastest-drowning city today is Jakarta, located by the Java Sea, which is part of the Pacific Ocean. The northern part of the city has to deal with an annual water level increase of 25 centimetres. This, however, isn’t due solely to global warming – local laws allow all inhabitants to dig their own wells, which leads to a gradual collapse of the ground. Indonesia is trying to save its capital with the aid of Dutch engineers, who have suggested building a network of enormous polders along the coastline. Polders are low-lying areas that fall below the sea-level, but are enclosed by barriers. This solution would help to separate the northern parts of Jakarta from the sea, and double as emergency reservoirs that would contain excess water during a crisis.

The government of Jakarta backed out of its initial idea of creating a new business district on an artificial island shaped like the mystical Garuda bird (a man-eagle of sorts), which would have isolated the coast from the sea. This concept, inspired by Dubai’s urban planning solutions, was eventually abandoned in favour of a less spectacular but more innovative strategy to deal with the consequences of climate change. It involves filling polders with floating homes that could remain safely on the water surface during floods. This solution will also allow commercial use of an area that is utterly useless for traditional construction techniques.

Jakarta is the fastest-drowning city today. Photo: Adobe Stock
Jakarta is the fastest-drowning city today. Photo: Adobe Stock

It is no coincidence that Jakarta hired the Dutch to oversee the project of preparing the city for changes in water levels. Apart from the colonial ties linking the two nations, the Dutch have been experts in reclaiming flooded areas for new projects for centuries. They have perfected the art of building on water, too. Amsterdam invests billions of euros in preventing the city from drowning, and it promotes living in floating homes.

The sea won’t see it coming

The IJburg district, located south of Amsterdam’s city centre, was built on four artificial islands connected by bridges. Between the islands, dozens of floating homes are bobbing along the shores, moored to the islands and using the city’s infrastructure. The continually growing community of IJburg is known for its liberal world view (even by Dutch standards), and at its core are young, well-educated, middle-class people. They consider inhabiting the sea a chance to realize their dreams of living close to nature. Life on a barge or a floating platform today is a hippie extravagance. Soon, it might become a necessity.

Villa IJburg in Amsterdam. Photo: Architect Koen Olthuis, Waterstudio.NL
Villa IJburg in Amsterdam. Photo: Architect Koen Olthuis, Waterstudio.NL

“The Netherlands has long been a pioneer in reclaiming land from water, spending centuries drying out the sea to build. That may have been a mistake,” says Koen Olthuis, an architect and the founder of Waterstudio (an architectural firm that designs floating buildings). When so much land is threatened by floods, perhaps it’s better to invest in a house that can double as a boat, should crisis strike? This is an intriguing alternative for traditional urban planning, but it’s not a new idea. For centuries, Cambodians, Indians and Nigerians have built many towns and villages on areas flooded during rainy season, or just covered in water all year long. Some have created stilt houses, while others have preferred floating platforms that allow the settlements to move during immediate dangers, but also to acclimatize to changing weather conditions.

Such dynamically changing urban development principles could have a significant impact on the ways we all use our cities. It could lead to removing the attachment to particular patches of land. In many densely-urbanized areas all over the world, the amount of dry land available for new building projects is continuously shrinking. This means that throughout the years, there will be more people willing to move their homes to water. It can already be observed in data from the Netherlands, Denmark, Britain and France, where serious consideration is given to creating whole districts made entirely of floating homes.

Koen Olthuis is convinced that this type of building is the best solution for the architecture of the future. His projects are made not only for residential housing; he also designs floating hospitals, schools and theatres. They can easily travel between cities or districts, enriching the infrastructure and reaching places where they are most needed at the moment. However, his strategy raises many questions – most people don’t view living on water as a guarantee of permanence. This opinion is further cemented by news of disasters, like the recent collapse of the most famous floating construction, a school in Makoko, Lagos. The school, designed by the Dutch architectural firm NLÉ, drowned after heavy rain. Many ecologists also highlight the fact that too many floating buildings could affect riverbeds and shorelines, damaging the local fauna and flora. On the other hand, several units could have a surprisingly positive impact on the environment. Floating homes are a fantastic base for the development of underwater ecosystems, because they promote the growth of plants that significantly improve the biodiversity of the habitats of various fish and birds.

This has happened underneath several residential barges, whose impact on the environment was recently analysed by a team of London scientists. As it transpired, the barges are now home to more tenants than just the handful of humans who live inside.

Vistula tenants

Prototype water estates are also appearing in Poland. In the Czerniakowski Port in Warsaw, there are already several residential barges with permanent tenants. The only problem is the lack of space in the port, which makes it impossible to add more vessels to the neighbourhood. And the queue is long, as such floating homes are a tempting alternative to land property. Living on a barge is a bargain. The vessels are prefabricated and assembled of ready-made elements, which means a brand-new home could cost as little as 4000 PLN (around £800) per square metre. A 70–80 square-metre home could therefore cost less than a studio apartment in a big city. There are manufacturers offering steel or wooden skeletons on floats, often made of barrels, or styrofoam covered in concrete. The only trouble with such homes is ensuring an even spread of weight. If we invite 20 or 30 guests and let them all stand in one part of the room, the party would most likely end in a spectacular disaster. But a little caution and a pinch of common sense don’t seem to be a high price to pay for the chance to live in such an unusual and interesting environment.

The human ability to adapt to living on the water is actually quite astonishing. In today’s Indonesia, there are still tribes who spend over 60% of their daily lives on boats, diving for fish. Scientists were recently baffled by research confirming that the Bajau people have adapted to centuries-long evolutionary processes by developing spleens 50% larger than those in people who live on land. This unusual change allows the Bajau people to last up to 13 minutes underwater on just one breath. Moreover, some of them regularly experience land sickness after leaving their boats. What today seems to us curious trivia might one day become the new normal. If ocean waters continue rising at their current pace, it could be that our grand- and great-grandchildren’s genes will have to start making similar changes.

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Floating house & structure developers plan for ports & cities defense against higher sea levels & flooding

By Stas Margaronis

Source: Waterstudio


Sea level rise is magnifying the flood damage from hurricanes and storms  posing a growing threat to coastal communities around the world. In response, a growing number of flood and storm specialists as well as architects, home builders and developers are arguing that coastal cities need to be rebuilt for sea level defense.

The movement toward floating structures is growing and looking at how investing in sea level defense can also create new real estate development. The key is to inspire coastal cities and communities to build new houses, garages, farms and even cruise ship terminals (see rendering above) on the water.

Koen Olthuis, a Dutch architect of floating homes and structures who began his architectural firm Waterstudio in 2003, believes that floating structures can provide one component of the climate change adaptation strategy.

He argues that: “Waterstudio.NL is an architectural firm that has taken up the challenge of developing solutions to the problems posed by urbanization and climate change. Prognoses are that by 2050 about 70% of the world’s population will live in urbanized areas. Given the fact that about 90% of the world’s largest cities are situated on the waterfront, we are forced to rethink the way we live with water in the built environment. Given the unpredictability of future developments we need to come up with flexible strategies – planning for change. Our vision is that large-scale floating projects in urban environments provide a solution to these problems that is both flexible as well as sustainable.”

Olthuis says that political and business leaders as well as planners and urban development stakeholders need to start thinking about rebuilding their waterfronts with floating structures in mind: “A next step would be expanding (the) urban fabric beyond the waterfront: building normal urban configurations on water locations, with normal densities and usual typologies such as apartment-buildings, semi-detached housing, etc. Water-based neighborhoods that look and feel just like traditional land-based areas but just happen to have a floating foundation that allows them to cope with water fluctuations.” [1]

Olthuis, who is descended from a family of shipbuilders, notes that the offshore oil and gas industry provides a role model. Offshore drilling platforms suggest ways to build structures in the age of sea level rise: “There are many important lessons we can learn from the offshore oil and gas industry about building safe and sustainable houses in the water.”

Offshore drilling is more challenging than onshore drilling due to the lack of stability (particularly for floaters), the corrosive water environment, space constraints and the need for more complex logistics and support. Offshore drilling rigs are broadly divided into bottom-supported rigs and floaters.

Olthuis has been inspired by the jack-up rig which he uses in the design of a house. The jack-up rig allows for offshore deployment in shallow water:

Jack-up rigs are floated out to the drilling location, and they have retractable legs that are lowered down to the seafloor. Jack-up rigs can only work in water depths less than the length of their legs, typically limiting operations to less than 150 meters/500 feet. When drilling is completed, the legs are raised out of the water, and the rig becomes a floating barge that can be towed away (‘wet tow’) or placed on a large transport ship (‘dry tow’).”2

Source: Maersk

Another potential model is the Allseas Pioneering Spirit, a mega ship, which lifts and transports offshore drilling platforms to and from their foundations in the open sea. This shows that the technology already exists to transport  large structures like apartment buildings that could be built on land and transported onto pedestals in the water as the photo below suggests: 3

Source: Allseas



Olthuis has recently returned from Miami, Florida where he has designed a house that can float on the water or be raised above the water by an internal jack up system.

Olthuis says the hybrid floating and jack up house would provide the stability of a house on land with the versatility of being on water so as to compensate for sea level rises and storm water surges. He is looking at markets in Florida and New York for the new housing developments.



The Waterstudio design allows the homeowner to “live in comfort and luxury in total autonomy, and enjoy life between the sea, the sky and the city. Dock in a metropolitan marina or anchor in a tranquil bay.”



In the manner of a semi submersible oil rig with a propulsion system, the Waterstudio floating house is also self-propelled:



The design also contains a solar roof and batteries to make it largely energy self-sufficient:



However, Olthuis’ floating home “is not cheap and costs 5.5 million Euros (or about $6.1 million) to build, but it offers some elements that could help establish the foundation for floating houses, apartments and retail outlets being built in the water.”


As demand for cruise ship travel is on the increase, more ports are looking to build cruise ship terminals to attract tourism.

Waterstudio proposes to build floating passenger ship terminals that can reduce capital costs compared to building terminals on land. This creates the possibility for ports, that lack deep financial pockets, to access state-of-the-art cruise ship terminals at lower costs and with less permit approval delays. Please see the rendering above.

Olthuis says the floating cruise ship terminal concept can also provide temporary housing for an Olympic Games or World Cup soccer event. The cost of putting on special events can be reduced if floating structures are used that can be towed from venue to venue.

His idea is to build the terminal, support it with shopping and other amenities and berth several cruise ships so as to accommodate thousands of  floating bedrooms. Below is the floor plan:

Source: Waterstudio NL


As downtown areas become increasingly congested, Olthuis makes the case for floating parking garages.

McGregor, the maker of vessel hatch covers, built a floating garage in Sweden that was completed in 1991:

Floating parking structure, Gothenburg, Sweden Completed 1991. Client:  Municipality of Gothenburg, Sweden  Main particulars: Mooring and access equipment. The floating garage, the P-Ark, can hold more than 400 cars and can be relocated to respond to changing parking requirements. Certified: Lloyd’s Register (LR) Source: McGregor

McGregor argues that as land is limited in both urban areas and ports, the building of parking garages is increasingly constrained. A shallow draft, multi-story, floating parking garage offers an ideal solution to congestion problems.

The company says that “A floating car park requires minimal civil works on the quay side before it can be towed into position and put into use. Compared to building a fixed garage, there is very little disturbance to the surroundings and the unit can be re-located in the future, should the parking situation change… Our floating garages can be designed and painted to blend in with the surroundings, or the large exterior surfaces can feature graphics for advertising, thus generating additional income. All our floating car parks are tailored to suit the customer’s requirements.” [4]


For centuries, the Dutch have built up their cities and towns reclaiming land from the sea. At a time when land is scarce and expensive, they have also begun building houses and other structures on the water. In Amsterdam a new floating housing development generates new housing and new homeowners adding value to the existing community.

The Schoonschip floating community creates new value to an older neighborhood by adding 46 households and a community center on 30 floating platforms. Source: Schoonschip

The Schoonschip housing development is composed of structures floating in the water on concrete foundations that its builders say will be sustainable and alleviate the challenge from higher sea levels:

The water homes are well-insulated … and will not be connected to the natural gas network.

The heat will be generated by water pumps, which extract warmth from the canal water, and passive solar energy will be optimized.

Tap water will be heated by sun boilers in warm water pumps; all showers are equipped with installations that recycle the heat.

We are producing our own electricity with photovoltaic solar panels. Every household has a battery in which temporarily unneeded energy can be stored.

All water homes are connected to a communal smart grid. This smart grid makes it possible to trade energy efficiently amongst the households. 46 households will share only one connection to the national energy grid!

Gray water (i.e. washing machine) and black water (i.e. toilet) will be ‘flushed’ by a separate source of energy. Waternet will eventually include us in their pilot project, which delivers the toilet water to a bio-refinery, in order to ferment it and transform it into energy.

All homes will have a green roof covering at least one third of the roof’s surface.[5]

Sjoerd Dijikstra, a spokesman for the Schoonschip development, explained how the floating housing development works: “The Schoonschip … development in Amsterdam has been 10 years in the making.”

He works in the materials industry for a company called Metabolic and “so I went to all of the suppliers of materials we use for building our houses to check that we had the most sustainable materials free of harmful chemicals and carcinogens. “

Metabolic is a partner in developing the Schoonschip houses. It was founded by Eva Gladek, born and raised in New York City, who began her career as a molecular biologist.[6]

Dyjikstra notes that Schoonschip is building the floating houses “at an industrial area outside of Amsterdam and then the houses are taken from the land by crane and lowered into the water where they are towed by boat to the development site inside a small Amsterdam canal…. Several of the 30 floating units have been split into apartments so there are actually a total of 46 units altogether. Soon my wife and I will be living in our own floating home. People need to like the water for this type of life. You live closer to the elements of wind and water and when the wind blows you feel the waves gently rolling the house.  If you like the sea, it’s a great experience.”

He notes the floating houses are three stories high: “The bedrooms are located at the water line, the living room and kitchen and study in the second storey and an outdoor terrace on top.” The average home is 1,600 square feet and “will cost about 650,000 euros ( about $726,000) but this includes legal costs and the infrastructure to support the houses including electrical, water, sewage. The net cost would be about 450,000 euros (about $503,000). As we build more units the cost of construction will go down since we are sourcing our homes from a manufacturer who can reduce their costs with more unit construction and pass on some of the savings to the customer. I think there is a good chance of this since we have had a good public reaction and we have a long waiting list of people who want to order the floating homes.”

He noted that “We paid a great deal of attention to insulation and we used hemp to insulate the houses. The appliances are all electrical and we built an array of 33 solar panels to provide 10,000 kilowatts of electricity which is supported by a battery system to provide sustainable energy at night when the sun doesn’t shine. We also worked on air filtration so that the air you breathe is clean and free of emissions and chemicals.”

As housing is very expensive in Amsterdam,  “apartments are expensive and small we offer a good alternative for middle income people who want to live close to Amsterdam and still enjoy being on the water with a sustainably built house that is not overly expensive and will cost less as we build more units.”

The Schoonschip Foundation is headed by Peer de Rijk (chair), Siti Boelen (treasurer), Marjan de Blok (secretary and initiator) and Marjolein Smeele (general board member and architect). [7]


Source: Buoyant Foundation


In Louisiana, the Buoyant Foundation Project (BFP), was “founded in 2006 to support the recovery of New Orleans’ unique and endangered traditional cultures by providing a strategy for the safe and sustainable restoration of historic housing.”

The foundation says: “Retrofitting the city’s traditional elevated wooden shotgun houses with buoyant (amphibious) foundations could prevent devastating flood damage and the destruction of neighborhood character that results from permanent static elevation high above the ground.”

A buoyant foundation “is a type of amphibious foundation in which an existing structure is retrofitted to allow it to float as high as necessary during floods while remaining on the ground in normal conditions. The system consists of three basic elements: buoyancy blocks underneath the house that provide flotation, vertical guideposts that prevent the house from going anywhere except straight up and down, and a structural sub-frame that ties everything together. Utility lines have either self-sealing ‘breakaway’ connections or long, coiled ‘umbilical’ lines.  Any house that can be elevated can be made amphibious.”

Since 2006, the Buoyant Foundation says its mission “has broadened to apply not only to post-Katrina New Orleans but also to numerous other flood-sensitive locations around the world.  The Buoyant Foundation Project is a registered non-profit organization in the State of Louisiana. The team consists of students, professors, and alumni of the University of Waterloo (Canada) School of Architecture.”[8]

The project founder is Elizabeth English, associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Cambridge, Ontario. She was formerly associate professor – research at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Hurricane Center. When not in Canada she resides in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, where she continues her research on hurricane damage mitigation strategies with particular application to post-Katrina New Orleans.[9]


In the Port of Rotterdam, a floating concrete barge has been constructed that contains a floating dairy farm to produce milk, yogurt and other dairy products.

Floating farm under construction  at the Port of Rotterdam


A report in the American Journal of Transportation quoted Minke van Wingerden, a partner at Beladon BV – the floating farm builder, as saying that the original idea for the farm came from a visit to New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

At that time, she and her husband, Peter van Wingerden, saw that food supplies were disrupted for days in the New York and New Jersey areas after the hurricane hit. Flooding and road damage prevented trucks from making deliveries. This food supply and transportation disruption has been repeated during Hurricanes Katrina, Maria and mostly recently with Hurricane Michael in Florida in 2018.

The van Wingerdens began researching ways to improve food deliveries during such emergencies. Originally, they focused on supporting more urban or rooftop gardens, but instead shifted to a popular trend in the Netherlands to offset limited and expensive land by building floating houses and offices.

So, they decided to build a floating farm.

The floating farm, Minke van Wingerden said, can adapt to changes in the climate and be hurricane-resistant.

“You go up and down with the tide, or the water, and it has no influence on your food production, so you can still make fresh food in the city,” she said.

“During our research, we saw that many cities are built on or near the sea and along rivers and deltas just as we see here in the Netherlands. This gave us the idea for the floating dairy farm so that the food supply could be brought closer to cities and consumers using floating structures.”

Privately, while they applaud the innovation, some people in Rotterdam think that the dairy products from the floating farm will cost too much and will not compete with land-based dairy farms.

Van Wingerden concedes that the cost of producing milk products will be higher from a floating farm than from a land-based farm.

However, she argues that the Beladon floating farm will be located close to Rotterdam consumers, reducing transportation costs and providing fresher products with faster delivery times.

The added advantage is that the floating farm will have a much smaller CO2 foot print than conventional farms: “We will use solar panels to power the farm and use rain water from the roof to supplement our water supply.”

To reduce the environmental impact further: “We will be using existing food waste to feed our cows. There is a brewery nearby so we will use the beer broth that is a product of brewing beer and feed it to our cows. They love it. Another source of food for the cows is potato peels from a food processor. In both cases these waste products would be burned or dumped onto a garbage disposal site. Instead, we feed the product to our cows.”

She hopes that companies like Amazon, and its Whole Foods subsidiary, will find that the Beladon floating farm fits into their fast delivery and organic food business model: a new technological creation to source dairy and other farm products requiring only an urban pier base of operations.

Van Wingerden said the floating farm is estimated to cost 2.6 million Euros (about $2.9 million). Its dimensions are 30 meters by 30 meters or 89 feet by 89 feet.

The structure is built on a concrete floating base. The second deck is composed of a kitchen to mix the feed for the cows, a processing facility for milk and yogurt products and a shop to sell the milk products. The top deck will be the pasture for forty cows that is connected by a bridge to allow the cows to walk off the farm and on to a land-based pier space for more walk-around space.

Van Wingerden describes the floating farm as “a floating laboratory” for developing new food supplies closer to cities on sea coasts or adjoining rivers and lakes.

She believes Asia will be a major market for the floating farm because many cities are located close to a body of water. There, she sees China as a major market, not just because of the large population living by the coast, but also because of the cities located along rivers such as the Yangtze.

Beladon is also looking at markets in Europe and North America, especially along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Floating farms can help address rising demand for food by bringing farm production closer to consumers and providing sustainable advantages that lower the carbon foot print and provide an organic food product.

Beladon believes these advantages will mitigate the lower cost advantage of larger land-based farms, which rely on trucking and diesel-powered harvesting.[10]


The movement toward floating structures is growing and looking at how investing in sea level defense can also create new real estate development. The key is to inspire coastal cities and communities to build new houses, garages, farms and even cruise ship terminals (see rendering above) on the water.

The Netherlands, with its long history of reclaiming land and building dikes to defend against the sea, has now begun to build more floating structures that increase commercial value so as to offset the costs of sea level defense.

The Dutch example influenced the Buoyant House project’s investment into floating houses as a defense against flooding and sea level rise for coastal communities in Louisiana and around the world

Cities need to begin investing in new floating developments now, Koen Olthuis argues, or they will be threatened by rising seas and storm surges.

“In 20 years,” he adds, “cities are going to be different than they are today.”














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Ces maisons solaires flottantes résistent aux catastrophes naturelles

By Vincent Pons


Pour ne pas sombrer après les tsunamis, ces habitations combinent les meilleurs attributs des bateaux, des maisons flottantes et des villas côtières. Et elles se déplacent à 13 km/h.

Des solutions « sur-marines ». Face à la montée des eaux, les villes ont de plus en plus de mal à trouver des solutions. C’est sans compter sur l’expérience des Hollandais de Koen Olthuis avec leur cabinet d’architecture Waterstudio. Aujourd’hui, ils présentent l’Arkup, une maison flottante et auto-suffisante. Conçue pour Miami, elle offre une résistance aux tempêtes et aux inondations, fréquentes en Floride.

Bunker sur mer. Pour se protéger, la maison se dresse sur des piliers hydrauliques qui protègent des vagues en la rendant aussi stable qu’une maison terrestre. De plus, elle est capable de résister à un ouragan de catégorie 4, soit des vents allant jusqu’à 210 km/h. À la pointe de l’innovation, cette maison de 200 m2 munie de panneaux solaires fonctionne indépendamment du réseau électrique de la ville. Cerise sur le gâteau, une véritable station d’épuration récupère l’eau de pluie pour la purifier et la réutiliser.

Cette maison « roule » à 13 km/h. L’Arkup pouvant se déplacer à une vitesse de 13km/h, l’emplacement n’est plus un souci. On peut changer de place à souhait entre la mer, le ciel et la ville, tant qu’il y a de quoi s’amarrer. Et voici le bonus : considéré comme propriétaire d’un bateau auto-suffisant, dites adieu aux impôts fonciers et charges. Là au moins, vous serez protégé sur tous les fronts. 

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Het klimaat, vijftig jaar later: een min of meer hoopgevend bericht uit 2069


Loopt het wel zo mis met het klimaat als het lijkt? Wetenschapsredacteur Maarten Keulemans blikt terug vanuit het jaar 2069 – en ontdekt iets vreemds.

Het is achteraf misschien moeilijk voor te stellen, maar rond 2020 dachten veel mensen dat de wereld zou vergaan. Nieuwssites stonden vol onheilspellende berichten over het veranderende klimaat, in de boekwinkels lagen boeken met titels als Onze onbewoonbare planeet en op straat demonstreerden zelfs de schoolkinderen, met oogluikende toestemming van veel ouders en scholen.

Begrijpelijk ook wel. Vanaf ongeveer 1975 begonnen de broeikasgassen die de mens al sinds de 19de eeuw uitstoot steeds duidelijker door te werken in het systeem aarde. Plots trok de wereldtemperatuur aan, naar één volle graad warmer rond 2020. En overal begon men de gevolgen te merken. Smeltende ijsmassa’s aan de randen van Antarctica en Groenland, een vervaarlijk krimpende noordelijke poolkap – de noordelijke ijszee had in die dagen nog permanent ijs – en in de meer zuidelijke streken hittegolven, orkanen en bosbranden. Nog even, en ‘grote delen van de planeet raken onleefbaar’, zoals een in die dagen populaire activiste genaamd Marjan Minnesma stelde.

Intussen liep het klimaatbeleid vast. Waar het de internationale gemeenschap in de jaren tachtig van de vorige eeuw nog tamelijk soepel was gelukt ozonlaag afbrekende drijfgassen uit te bannen, bleek het tegengaan van broeikasgassen een paar bruggen te ver. ‘Bakken geld hebben we geïnvesteerd, maar de werkelijkheid is dat de CO2-uitstoot onverminderd voortgaat’, verzuchtte Oxford-hoogleraar Dieter Helm in 2018, ruim een kwart eeuw na het klimaatakkoord van Rio de Janeiro, ’s werelds eerste internationale klimaatverdrag.

Eind 2015 was er een sprankje hoop, toen 197 landen in Parijs in een allang weer vergeten klimaatakkoord beloofden de opwarming te beperken tot anderhalve graad, en echt, echt, écht onder de 2 graden te blijven. Maar binnen enkele jaren was die belofte alweer verwaterd. Haast geen land slaagde erin de uitstoot genoeg te matigen, in grote landen als Brazilië en de toenmalige Verenigde Staten kwamen leiders aan de macht die uit de afspraken stapten, en naties als China en India klaagden dat het Westen de miljarden aan klimaatsteun die het in Parijs had toegezegd maar niet leverde.

In Nederland gingen aanvankelijk nog stemmen op om voorop te lopen in het tegengaan van CO2. Totdat het kabinet Dijkhoff-I, onder druk van coalitiepartner Thierry Baudet, besloot de klimaatmaatregelen af te zwakken. ‘Het is niet mijn akkoord, ik ga het niet letterlijk uitvoeren’, had Dijkhoff begin 2019 al gezegd.

Zo betraden we de jaren 2020 in zak en as, terwijl de CO2-uitstoot maar bleef stijgen en de wereldtemperatuur record na record boekte. Op uw interface kunt u de filmpjes terugzien van wat er in dat decennium zoal gebeurde: de superhittegolven van 2023 en 2025, orkaan Nigel die Charleston verwoestte, orkaan Gavin die over het Witte Huis trok en natuurlijk de vele hittedoden tijdens de bedevaart in Mekka in 2027.

‘Het is, ik beloof het, erger dan je denkt’, schreef milieujournalist David Wallace-Wells in een essay dat in die dagen als een lopend vuurtje rondging over het datanet. ‘Als je ongerustheid over de opwarming van de aarde zich nog beperkt tot angst voor zeespiegelstijging, heb je niet half een idee van de verschrikkingen die mogelijk zijn.’

Terwijl wie goed luisterde, ook een ander geluid kon horen. ‘Over de gehele linie verloopt de energietransitie fantastisch en in voortdurende versnelling’, zei milieuwetenschapper Amory Lovins van het Rocky Mountain Institute opgetogen in een interview. Dat was nota bene in 2018, midden in de eerste ambtstermijn van president Donald Trump de Eerste.

Groene omslag

Zo waren er de micro-initiatieven.

Al ruim vóór 2020 begonnen steeds meer steden, provincies, bedrijven en regio’s hun eigen klimaatbeloften in te dienen, op informeel ingerichte websites zoals de Non-state actor zone for climate action (NAZCA) van de VN, de Under2 Coalition voor regio’s, het Global Covenant of Mayors voor stadsbesturen en de Carbon Neutrality Coalition voor landen. Toen de internationale klimaatafspraken instortten, waren het deze kleintjes die overbleven, met al hun plannen voor auto-arme binnensteden, zuinige straatlampen, innovatieve riolen, groene daken en duurzame bedrijfspanden.

En dat maakte uit. Ouderen herinneren zich misschien nog de spontane straatfeesten die uitbraken toen Utrecht als eerste grote Nederlandse stad klimaatneutraal werd, amper een week later gevolgd door Gelderland als eerste klimaatneutrale provincie. Of neem Donald Trump I, die in 2020 uit de internationale klimaatafspraken stapte. Achter zijn rug om ging de groene omslag gewoon door: staten als Californië, Connecticut en New Jersey deden hun eigen klimaatbeloften, in Indiana en Colorado besloten energiebedrijven uit eigener beweging kolencentrales vervroegd te sluiten en te vervangen door duizenden megawatt aan wind- en zonne-energie, en multinationals als Facebook en Pepsi namen maatregelen om geen molecuul broeikasgas meer aan de dampkring toe te voegen. In Californië riep toenmalig gouverneur Jerry Brown in 2018 zelfs doodleuk een eigen klimaattop bijeen: een soort inzamelingsactie, waar bedrijven en plaatselijke besturen publiekelijk hun klimaatbeloftes kwamen verkondigen.

Voor een belangrijk deel werd de lente aangeblazen door oude, economische wetten. Rond 2020 begonnen de prijzen van windturbines en vooral zonnepanelen sterk te dalen. De prijs van fossiele energie ging juist omhoog: het internationaal energieagentschap (IAE) had al in 2018 gewaarschuwd dat de vraag naar olie sterk zou stijgen, terwijl het oppompen ervan juist achterbleef. Nu fossiel eenmaal in de beklaagdenbank stond, waren er domweg minder investeerders die de immense langetermijninvesteringen in olieprojecten nog aandurfden.

Ook Koning Steenkool begon te wankelen. Historisch was bijvoorbeeld vrijdag de 21ste april 2017, toen Groot-Brittannië voor het eerst sinds het begin van de industriële revolutie een heel etmaal lang geen steenkolen verstookte. Dat markeerde de trend: steeds meer sluitende kolencentrales in westerse landen, industrieën die overschakelden op gas, jaar na jaar minder steenkool uit de mijn. ‘Overal ter wereld is kolen op weg naar de uitgang’, signaleerde een onafhankelijke analyse al in 2017.

Tegelijk waren er de innovaties. Achteraf is het vreemd om je voor te stellen, maar destijds waren zonnecellen nog stijve, zwarte panelen die men op het dak schroefde. Zoals iedereen weet die weleens een emmer zonnecelpasta bij de bouwmarkt heeft gekocht: vandaag is dat wel anders. Of neem de zonnestroom opwekkende metaalcoating waarmee tegenwoordig haast alle auto’s, treinen, rails, verkeersborden en vangrails zijn bewerkt, de zonnedakpannen op uw dak of de zonneramen waardoor u naar buiten kijkt. Rond 2020 was het allemaal nog in ontwikkeling.

Een stomende, grijze, aan olie en steenkool verslaafde wereld moet het zijn geweest. Grafeenbatterijen, lithium-air-accu’s en zelfs siliciumbatterijen had men nog niet, zodat men uit wind en zon opgewekte stroom niet eens kon opslaan. Schepen voeren nog op stookolie in plaats van op microkernreactors en stroomvoorzienende skoonboxen. En omdat er nog geen betrouwbaar Europees netwerk van hogesnelheidslijnen bestond en zelfs de hyperloop nog in ontwikkeling was, was men voor vervoer aangewezen op benzineauto’s en vliegtuigen op kerosine.

Ook de velden met metershoog, wuivend oliezaad en olifantsgras in Frankrijk en Duitsland bestonden nog niet; de Tweede Groene Revolutie moest immers nog beginnen. Begin jaren twintig was men er weliswaar in geslaagd om met genetische modificatie gewassen te maken zoals supersnel groeiend oliezaad, snelgroeiend tarwe en zoutwaterbestendige rijst, maar in Europa aarzelde men nog om ze toe te passen. Het is aan de overtuigingskracht van oud-eurocommissaris voor klimaatzaken Jesse Klaver te danken dat Europa eind jaren twintig eindelijk zijn knellende beperkingen op genetische manipulatie afzwakte en de biotechnologie omarmde. Met als gevolg een revolutie in biobrandstof en bioplastics in Europa, een voedingsrevolutie in Afrika en Azië, en in landen als Frankrijk en Duitsland programma’s waarbij de overheid vrijkomende akkers terugkocht om te laten verwilderen.

Ook de Grote Ontdiering hielp mee. Vanaf ongeveer 2025 werden vleesvervangers en kunstvlees zo smakelijk en goedkoop, dat het ontdieren voor het eerst oversloeg van een tamelijk select gezelschap idealisten (‘vegetariërs’, noemden die zich destijds) naar de massa. Met als gevolg: slinkende veestapels, nog meer vrije landbouwgrond, drastisch minder mest en minder broeikasgassen zoals methaan en lachgas.


Maar de grote klapper kwam uit het oosten. Daar was vooral China al jaren de belangrijkste aanjager van de almaar groeiende mondiale uitstoot van broeikasgassen. Maar dat was voor de smogrampen van de jaren twintig en de grote stormvloed van Guangzhou (900 duizend doden) en die van Mumbai (1,1 miljoen doden). China en India reageerden met enorme programma’s voor versnelde aanleg van kerncentrales, reusachtige wind- en zonneparken en grote herbebossingsprojecten. Onder meer de megazonneparken van Zuid-China, herkenbaar vanuit de ruimte als reusachtige bloemen en pandaberen, zijn in deze periode ontstaan.

Vanaf ongeveer 2035 begonnen in Afrika en Azië bovendien de eerste tekenen zichtbaar te worden van de grote depopulatie. In 2020 dachten veel experts nog dat de bevolking van Afrika zou verdubbelen, tot zo’n 2,6 miljard inwoners in 2050. Maar ze hadden buiten Sigrid Kaag gerekend, de visionaire D66’er en oud-minister die na de kabinetten Dijkhoff-1 en -2 aantrad als speciaal VN-klimaatgezant voor Afrika. In haar memoires Hoe de vrouwen de wereld redden brengt Kaag in herinnering hoe ze het klimaat verbond met ontwikkelingshulp. Zo ging ze ertoe over om miljarden dollars klimaatgeld in te zetten voor toiletten in India, kookstellen en waterleidingen in Afrika en vrouwenscholen in arme landbouwgebieden.

Stuk voor stuk meesterzetten, weten we achteraf. Door de kookstellen en de waterleidingen hoefden vrouwen geen hout meer te sprokkelen en water te halen en hielden ze tijd over voor onderwijs en betaald werk. Bovendien bleven de bossen rondom dorpen gespaard, wat weer hielp tegen verwoestijning, erosie en het verval van biodiversiteit. Door de toiletten hoefden vrouwen niet meer alleen het veld in, met als gevolg minder verkrachtingen en ongewenste zwangerschappen, maar ook een schoner milieu.

Gecombineerd met de vrouwenscholen ontstond er in het zuiden zo voor het eerst een generatie geletterde, werkende vrouwen, met onmiddellijk positief effect op de welvaart en de volksgezondheid. Waarna prompt gebeurde wat er al eerder in Europa en de snel moderniserende landen in Azië was gebeurd. Het aantal kinderen per gezin slonk, omdat werkende vrouwen pas op latere leeftijd kinderen krijgen, minder tijd hebben, en hun kinderen niet meer nodig hebben als oudedagsvoorziening.

In Afrika viel het geboortecijfer naar beneden van 5 kinderen per gezin in 2020 naar minder dan 2 in 2050; in India ging het kindertal van 2,3 in 2020 naar 1,6 een generatie later. De groei was een krimp geworden. Sigrid Kaag had de ‘populatiebom’ ontmanteld.

En er waren verbeteringen die zo weinig fotogeniek waren dat ze helemaal niet opvielen. In de jaren twintig en dertig verving men de fluorkoolwaterstoffen uit airconditionings, een internationale afspraak die men al in 2016 had gemaakt: een besparing van 90 miljard ton broeikasgas, en uiteindelijk liefst een halve graad opwarming minder. In Azië gingen boeren hun rijstvelden beter draineren: de methaanuitstoot nam tot 70 procent af.

En zo verder. In Afrika en Zuid-Amerika omarmden steeds meer landen en gemeenschappen de kleine, gesloten kernreactoren die vanaf midden jaren dertig in opkomst waren. In de steden werkte men aan schonere en overdekte rioleringen, beter openbaar vervoer en fiets- en wandelvriendelijke binnensteden. In de bouw herontdekte men bamboe als bouwmateriaal, gebruikte men beton met een lagere kalkgraad en ging men het binnenklimaat van openbare gebouwen en bedrijfspanden automatisch reguleren. Op het platteland beplantten boeren hun veeakkers met bomen – ‘silvopastuur’ – en kale vlaktes met vocht vasthoudende gaobomen. Het waren stuk voor stuk maatregelen die niet eens per se waren bedoeld voor het klimaat, maar om de gezondheid te verbeteren, winst te maken of het leven te veraangenamen. Maar het bijeffect – miljarden tonnen broeikasgas minder – was natuurlijk mooi meegenomen.

Zo begon de uitstoot van broeikasgassen na 2031 alsnog te dalen, later dan gehoopt, maar in hoger tempo dan voorzien. Niet als gevolg van een groots, wereldomspannend masterplan, maar door een opeenstapeling van duizend-en-een lokale maatregelen, vernieuwingen en ontwikkelingen. In Afrika en India was de sleutel welvaartsgroei; in het autocratische China gaf de volksgezondheid de doorslag; in Amerika kwam de duurzaamheid pas goed van de grond toen staten en bedrijven er onderling om gingen concurreren.

Er was nooit één oplossing geweest voor het klimaatprobleem; het waren er talloze.

Te somber ingeschat

Natuurlijk, voor de opwarming van de aarde maakte het aanvankelijk weinig uit. Velen herinneren zich nog de eerste zomer zonder ijs op de Noordpool in 2042. De dramatische bekendmaking, een paar jaar later, dat de ondiepe delen van het Great Barrier Reef voorgoed verloren waren. De grote rendiersterftes van de jaren dertig, het opdrogen van de Californische en Franse wijnstreken – ja, ooit verbouwde men wijn in het Rhônegebied – en natuurlijk de evacuatie van historisch Venetië, vanaf 2047 definitief ongeschikt verklaard voor bewoning.

Maar zelfs hier schatte men, weten we nu, de zaak in 2020 te somber in. De prognoses van begin 21ste eeuw gingen vaak uit van het somberste scenario, omdat risico-analyses nu eenmaal altijd moeten uitgaan van het ergst denkbare. 6 graden opwarming in het jaar 2100! Wel 2,5 meter zeespiegel erbij! Maar in werkelijkheid gingen de meer realistische scenario’s ook toen al uit van een opwarming die zou oplopen tot zo’n 3 graden in het jaar 2100 en een zeespiegel die in dat jaar hooguit 63 centimeter hoger zou staan.

In werkelijkheid bleek het mee te vallen. Zo brachten de vulkaanuitbarstingen van de Sabancaya in Peru en de Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania behalve veel leed ook tijdelijke verkoeling, en was de zon minder actief, met als gevolg dat de opwarming langzamer ging dan de klimaatmodellen voorzagen. Toen de magische grens van 2 graden opwarming werd overschreden, was dat niet tussen 2030 en 2040 zoals men begin 21ste eeuw nog vreesde, maar pas in het jaar 2063.

Er was nog iets dat men begin deze eeuw schromelijk onderschatte – namelijk, het aanpassingsvermogen van de mens. Want geconfronteerd met hittegolven, overstromingen, noodweer, bosbranden, oogstproblemen, een stijgende zeespiegel en zwellende rivieren bleef men niet stilzitten, maar bood men, vaak met boerenverstand, de veranderingen het hoofd.

In Bangladesh gingen boeren in overstromingsgevoelige gebieden in plaats van kippen eenden kweken, die blijven bij watersnood tenminste drijven. In India haalde men een duizenden jaren oude bouwtechniek van woestijnbewoners van stal: bouw onder in het huis een waterbassin, dat scheelt bij hittegolven wel 20 graden. In het Caribische gebied bouwde men golfbrekers voor de kust en stormbestendiger huizen, in Zuid-Amerika beschermde men de kust met brede mangrovebossen en kunstmatige koralen, in andere landen verbood men eenvoudigweg nog huizen te bouwen in laaggelegen kuststreken.

En in moderne landen als het onze paste men zich aan met ingenieursvernuft. Denk aan Schiphol in Zee, dat momenteel voor de kust wordt gebouwd op drijvend beton. Of aan de drijvende stad die de Nederlandse zeearchitect Koen Olthuis ontwierp, om de overlevenden van de watersnood van Miami te huisvesten.

Zo bouwend en innoverend en ploeterend bouwden we de wereld van 2069, het jaar waarin u dit leest. Volgens de meeste prognoses zal de temperatuur nog wat verder oplopen en glaciologen zijn bezorgd of de smelt van enkele cruciale gletsjers op Groenland en Antarctica nog wel te stoppen is. Maar nu steeds meer landen dankzij de enorme, lucratieve CO2-afvangprojecten die overal ter wereld zijn opgebloeid meer broeikasgassen aan de dampkring onttrekken dan ze erin stoppen, waarschuwen klimaatwetenschappers ook dat de temperatuur na 2100 weleens kan gaan dalen.

En zo komt het dat men afgelopen weekeinde de straat op ging, in de eerste klimaatmars sinds 2019, met borden als ‘Stop Global Cooling’ en ‘Red de planeet, ik krijg een kouwe reet!’ Vooral sinds de vorige winter zit de schrik er goed in. Voor het eerst sinds 2012 had Nederland een koudegolf, met alle gevolgen van dien: automobilisten wier stekker zat vastgevroren in de laadpaal, zonnepanelen die bedekt raakten onder de sneeuw, drijvende woonwijken met vorstschade.

Toeval natuurlijk, zo’n koudegolf, benadrukte premier Lotta Crok, ooit ’s werelds eerste ‘junior-fietsburgemeester’ en voorloper in de verduurzaming. Ook in ons warmere klimaat komen strenge winters nu eenmaal heel af en toe voor. Maar tegenstanders zijn geschrokken en verwijten haar de industrie de hand boven het hoofd te houden. Bedrijven als Tata Steel in IJmuiden en Dow Benelux in Terneuzen verdienen immers miljoenen aan de omzetting van hun CO2-uitstoot in kunststoffen en chemicaliën.

Ook elders begint de roep om maatregelen te klinken. Neem de hoogoplopende ruzie tussen Rusland en de CO2-afvangende golfstaten in het Midden-Oosten. Rusland, bezorgd dat zijn graanoogsten weer afnemen als het klimaat afkoelt, wil dat de golfstaten hun reusachtige CO2-afvanginstallaties uitschakelen. Maar de koolstofsjeiks willen er niets van weten: hun rijkdom berust immers op de handel in CO2-rechten. Grimmig werd de sfeer toen Saoedi-Arabië onlangs dreigde een zwavelzuurbom te laten ontploffen boven Rusland, die een afkoelende mist van zonlicht blokkerende druppeltjes in de stratosfeer zou verspreiden.

Ook in Amerika is het, twintig jaar na het uiteenvallen van de Verenigde Staten, weer onrustig. In een woedende livefeed herhaalde president Donald Trump III van de Verenigde Republikeinse Staten (VRS) vorige week zijn verwijt dat de Verenigde Democratische Staten (VDS) verantwoordelijk zijn voor de ‘klimaathysterie’ van destijds. ‘Straks vriest de Noordpoolroute voor de scheepvaart nog dicht’, aldus de president, die de VDS verdenkt van een samenzwering met China.

Het is anders gelopen dan men in 2020 verwachtte – simpelweg omdat de toekomst zich maar zelden goed laat vangen door de lijnen uit het verleden door te trekken. Het klimaat heeft de wereld drastisch veranderd, anders dan de klimaatsceptici van destijds verwachtten. Maar ook de pessimisten kregen ongelijk: ze onderschatten de flexibiliteit van de mens, onleefbaar of onbewoonbaar is de planeet niet geworden.

Hadden de mensen van twee generaties geleden dat maar geweten. Het had ze ongetwijfeld veel kopzorgen en frustraties bespaard.

Met speciale dank aan Tom Kram (ECN/PBL), Leo Meyer (Climate Contact Consultancy), Bart Strengers (PBL) en Detlev van Vuuren (PBL).


Hoewel de hier geschetste toekomst uiteraard gefingeerd is, zijn veruit de meeste achterliggendecijfers, ontwikkelingen, namen, technieken en ideeën echt. Dit stuk is dan ook gebaseerd op tientallen studies, rapporten en artikelen en achtergrondgesprekken met experts. Omdat de meeste klimaatverhalen die tot ons komen uitgaan van de meest pessimistische voorstelling van zaken  – wat bij een risico-inschatting logisch is – richt dit stuk zich juist op de middenscenario’s, die misschien dichter bij de werkelijkheid liggen.

Dieter Helm deed zijn uitspraak in de Financial Times, Klaas Dijkhoff sprak tegen de Telegraaf, het citaat van David Wallace-Wells komt uit zijn essay The Uninhabitable Earth, en Amory Lovins deed zijn uitspraken tegen Clean Energy Wire. Ook de micro-initiatieven, prognoses voor de energiemarkt en zaken als de uitstootcijfers van China zijn echt.

De uitstoot- en klimaatscenario’s waarop dit stuk is gebaseerd zijn ontleend aan de laatste twee IPCC-rapporten. Veel toekomstscenario’s gaan uit van de hoogste prognose (onder kenners bekend als RCP 8.5), maar dat scenario is omstreden omdat het uitgaat van onbeperkt beschikbare fossiele brandstoffen en ongebreidelde uitstootgroei. In dit artikel gaan we uit van een combinatie: tot 2030 haast ongeremde CO2-toename, daarna versnelde matiging naar de middenscenario’s, als allerlei nieuwe technieken tegelijk in werking treden, en na 2060 in diverse landen zelfs negatieve emissies.

De natuurrampen in Charleston, Mekka, Washington, Guangzhou, Mumbai, Californië, het Rhônegebied, Alaska, de Dode Zee en Rio de Janeiro vormen reële dreigingen en zijn ontleend aan diverse analyses van onder meer de Wereldbank en herverzekeraar Swiss Re. De ijsvrije Noordpool rond 2040, het verval van kwetsbare ecosystemen en koralen en de mogelijk onomkeerbare smelt van enkele grote gletsjers zijn prognoses van het IPCC.

Ook de menselijke aanpassingen aan klimaatveranderingberusten op waarheid. De golfbrekers, bouwverboden aan de kust, mangrovebossen en kunstmatige koralen in het Caribische gebied zijn gebaseerd op het initiatief Tarea Vida van de Cubaanse overheid. In India loopt een project om oude woestijnbouwtechnieken te herintroduceren, de eenden in Bangladesh zijn een proefproject, en architect Koen Olthuis van Waterstudio.NL geldt als een van de grote namen in het bouwen op het water.

Dan de nieuwe energietechnieken. Zonnecelpasta en zonnestroom opwekkende metaalcoating zijn twee oude dromen, die in onder meer Californië, Boston, Australië en Groot-Brittannië worden verkend. Van de talloze nieuwe batterijontwerpen die momenteel worden ontwikkeld, horen de grafeenbatterij, de lithium-air-accu en de siliciumbatterij tot de meest kansrijke. Met het oog op de lengte achterwege gelaten is onder meer waterstof, dat met name in het vrachtvervoer beloftevol is, en toepassingen van kunstmatige intelligentie.

De skoonbox is zomaar een van de vele aardige duurzame ideeën van eigen bodem: voorzie schepen van een zeecontainer vol opgeladen accu’s zodat ze een deel van hun reis op stroom kunnen varen. De hyperloop is een soort buizenpost voor vracht- en personenvervoer die in onder meer Delft steeds serieuzer wordt uitgewerkt.

Veel landbouwexperts gaan er vanuit dat er echt een nieuwe Groene Revolutie nodig is om de wereldbevolking te voeden en klimaatverandering het hoofd te bieden. Zoutresistente rijst werd afgelopen zomer gepresenteerd in China. Reusachtig oliezaad, olifantsgras en tarwe bestaan nog niet; de technieken om gewassen versneld te laten groeien worden al wel getest in andere planten. Een grote revolutie in kunstvlees, gekweekt dierweefsel uit het lab, verwacht de industrie pas over zo’n tien jaar.

De opmars van kernenergie in Afrika, de komst van kleine gesloten kernreactoren en de uitbreiding van kernenergie in China en India worden voorzien door het internationaal atoomagentschap (IAEA). Onder meer Egypte, Ghana, Kenia, Marokko, Nigeria, Niger en Soedan hebben een formele aanvraag voor kerncentrales ingediend bij IAEA. Pandavormige zonneweides in China bestaan overigens al.

De veronderstelde daling van het kindertal in Afrika is onderwerp van verhit wetenschappelijk debat. Een overzicht in The Lancet constateerde vorig jaar dat de bestaande prognoses de bevolkingsgroei consequent overschatten. Vrouwenemancipatie wordt door veel sociologen en economen inderdaad gezien als de sleutel tot bevolkingsafname. De aanleg van toiletten, keukens en waterleidingen duikt in veel analyses op.

De populatiebom verwijst het zeer beroemde milieuboek The Population Bomb (1968) van Paul Ehrlich; de titel ‘Hoe de vrouwen de wereld redden’ is een insidegrapje: lang was het de werktitel waaronder ik dit stuk werd aangekondigd bij de bijlages van deze krant.

De opgesomde ‘niet fotogenieke’ technieken, zoals fluorkoolwaterstoffen, silvopastuur, schonere riolen, andere bouwmaterialen, schonere rijstvelden, autoluwe binnensteden en automatische gebouwen, zijn ontleend aan de zogeheten Drawdown-lijst, een overzicht van pragmatische klimaatmaatregelen die deels onafwendbaar zijn. Dat fluorkoolwaterstoffen een halve graad zou schelen, is een bekende schatting.

De methaanuitstoot van rijstvelden wordt veroorzaakt door zuurstofloze modderbacteriën. Door de velden beter door te spoelen, zijn er daarvan minder, wat betere oogsten geeft en tot 2050 naar schatting zo’n 12 gigaton aan CO2-equivalenten aan broeikasuitstoot minder. Andere maatregelen zijn: betere bemesting, andere rijstrassen, minder bodemverstoring.

Donald Trump heeft een zoon én een kleinzoon genaamd Donald. Lotta Crok, dochter van klimaatpublicist Marcel Crok, werd in Amsterdam vorige zomer echt ’s werelds eerste junior-fietsburgemeester.

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Luxury Green Floating Home With Solar Panels and Excellent Insulation


Arkup’s homes will be fully self-sustaining

If you’re attracted to yachting and luxury waterfront living, you might just combine the two with Arkup’s livable yachts. Designed by Koen Olthuis with Waterstudio in collaboration with Arkup, the structures can be docked in marinas or bays, and hydraulic pilings then raise the structure above the water level protecting it from the action of the waves. In fact, the company claims that its “yachts” will withstand severe storms and floods.

Adding to the attraction, Arkup’s homes will be fully self-sustaining. Solar energy powers the cube-like living structures, and environmentally-friendly waste management systems, waterpurification plants, and rainwater tanks ensure that the environmental footprint of the homes is minimal.

Spaciousness and luxury are part of the package. The living room alone measures 775 square feet, and the units include a kitchen, a bedroom, a dining area, and a rooftop lounge. The front façade consists of sliding doors that lead out onto a terrace. To complete the luxury ambiance, Arkup has partnered with Artefacto, a Brazilian company specializing in sustainable, luxury furnishings.

While living in a sustainable Arkup home will certainly be a delightful experience, local reaction to the blockish, two-story high structures being docked alongside the coast in the medium to long term may be not always positive.

The visual footprint of coastal homes is already controversial when they block views, and if they should prove popular, local residents are bound to object to an array of elite Arkup homes obstructing the waterside vista. Nevertheless, with rising ocean levels and the expected increase in the frequency of severe storms, the homes may yet prove to be a waterfront prototype of a workable future solution.

It can be yours for USD5.5million.

Arkup’s homes will be fully self-sustaining (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Skyline view from the terrace (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Living room (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Interior design with kitchen (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Skyline view with Arkup’s green floating home (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Ground floor (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Floor plan of the second floor (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Top view of the roof with solar panels (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Rendering of elevated floating home (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Swimming floating home (Arkup & Waterstudio)

Terrace of the green floating home invites for relaxing (Arkup & Waterstudio)

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Click here to go to the source website


Comment l’architecture anticipe la crise emvironmentale?

By Sarah Diep

En prévision des risques liés au dérèglement climatique, de nombreux architectes et urbanistes proposent des habitats du futur centrés sur la notion d’adaptabilité. Entre utopies inspirantes et solutions concrètes, ils illustrent tous un même postulat : l’innovation naît souvent de la contrainte.

C’est un nénuphar de 500 000 mètres carrés, bordé de trois excroissances qui lui donnent l’air de gondoler. Une structure tout en dioxyde de titane et jardins suspendus. À l’intérieur, on vit sans émissions de carbone grâce à une combinaison d’énergies renouvelables, et la permaculture assure une autosuffisance alimentaire. Cette « écopolis flottante pour réfugiés climatiques » est l’une des visions de l’architecte belge Vincent Callebaut, figure de proue d’un urbanisme biomimétique. En réponse à la montée du niveau des océans, qui risque d’affecter 250 millions de personnes dans le monde, « Lilypad » se veut être un « nouveau prototype biotechnologique de résilience écologique voué au nomadisme et à l’écologie urbaine en mer ». Ces îles artificielles pourraient abriter près de 50 000 habitants chacune et suivre les courants.

La description du projet résonne comme un manifeste politique : « Il est primordial de passer dès aujourd’hui d’une stratégie de réaction dans l’urgence à une stratégie d’adaptation et d’anticipation durable. » En grattant le vernis de l’esthétique SF et des éléments de langage « écoresponsables », on décèle un questionnement légitime – et pertinent. Où vivrons-nous demain ? Sans tomber dans la mouvance alarmiste de la collapsologie, cette science de l’effondrement et de la fin du monde popularisée sur la scène médiatique en 2018, de nouvelles formes d’habitats et de modes de vie se mettent en place en prenant en compte un dérèglement climatique de plus en plus soutenu, une population mondiale estimée à 10 milliards d’humains à l’horizon 2050 et un individualisme de plus en plus prégnant, favorisant les inégalités.

À Masdar City, un vent d’ultra-modernité souffle dans les ruelles étroites, entre les moucharabiehs pastels. Érigée en plein désert, à une vingtaine de kilomètres d’Abu Dhabi, l’écocité entend cocher toutes les cases de la ville verte modèle. Façon Silicon Valley des Émirats, Masdar – confiée au prestigieux cabinet de l’architecte britannique Norman Foster – mise sur une stratégie zéro déchet et un réseau de voiturettes électriques sans chauffeur. Le chantier pharaonique commencé il y a plus de douze ans (budget : 15 milliards d’euros) devait s’achever en 2016, il est repoussé à 2030. En attendant, les quelques milliers de primo-arrivants ne suffisent pas à lui épargner l’allure de ville-fantôme. Le salut viendra-t-il vraiment de ces créations ex nihilo destinées aux plus privilégiés en quête d’exil ? D’aucuns dénoncent déjà les contradictions du projet dans un pays autrement peu exemplaire en matière d’environnement. L’initiative pourrait néanmoins laisser espérer la possibilité d’aménagements urbains durables en terres arides, pour s’adapter notamment à la désertification des sols – un phénomène qui toucherait 23 hectares supplémentaires chaque minute dans le monde, selon l’ONU.

Fervent défenseur d’un « groundscape » (« paysage du sous-sol »), le célèbre créateur de la Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) Dominique Perrault préfère creuser. Littéralement. Afin de « prolonger nos bâtiments et créer un système racinaire. Parce que nos villes ne peuvent pas s’étendre à l’horizontale éternellement », développe-t-il. Dans le cadre du Grand Paris Express, il travaille sur la future gare de Villejuif, cylindre d’air de 50 mètres de profondeur et 70 de diamètre, s’enfonçant comme un puits de lumière jusqu’aux confins du métropolitain. Plus impressionnant encore, l’agence mexicaine Bunker Arquitectura a pensé un « Earthscraper », un gratte-ciel souterrain de 65 étages, sur le mode pyramide inversée du Louvre, plongeant dans les entrailles du centre-ville historique de Mexico. Une manière de gagner en qualité de vie à la surface sans obscurcir le ciel de la ville ni toucher à son patrimoine, permettant également de faire des économies de matériaux, et de garantir des espaces de vie résistants aux aléas climatiques. Soit un bunker d’un nouveau genre.

L’inquiétante intensification des catastrophes naturelles en incite d’autres à réinventer l’arche de Noé, et à rêver d’une survie de l’espèce loin de la terre ferme. Les néerlandais Waterstudio se sont ainsi spécialisés exclusivement dans les constructions sur l’eau – les Pays-Bas étant particulièrement concernés, près d’un quart du territoire se trouvant sous le niveau de la mer. Villas cubiques aux lignes épurées, salons immergés encadrés de grandes baies vitrées, îlots entiers juchés sur pilotis : voilà à quoi pourrait ressembler le paysage de demain. « 90% des plus grandes métropoles du monde se situent en littoral, souligne l’agence fondée par le charismatique Koen Olthuis. Nous devons repenser la façon dont nous habitons en incluant l’eau dans l’environnement urbain. » De l’autre côté du globe, le 13 janvier 2017, un protocole d’entente est même signé entre la Polynésie française et la fondation californienne The Seasteading Institute en vue de la création d’un ensemble d’îles artificielles autonomes. Alors que les archipels du Pacifique sont menacés d’être submergés, ces cités high-tech voudraient s’affirmer comme les symboles d’une « économie bleue » – un concept développé par l’entrepreneur belge Gunter Pauli (le pape du développement durable), qui consiste à n’utiliser que ce qui est disponible localement, ne générer que des plus-values et répondre aux besoins de la société en prenant en compte le bonheur et la santé. La Polynésie aurait finalement retiré son soutien officiel au projet, après des protestations des populations locales, craignant que des utopistes libertariens ne profitent de l’occasion pour conquérir la haute mer et se fabriquer un État avec ses propres lois.


Dès les années 1960, une mouvance « Technotopia » – décrite à l’époque par l’historienne Françoise Choay dans son antho­logie L’urbanisme, utopies et réalités – tente de placer le progrès au cœur de l’aménagement urbain et d’adapter la ville aux nouveaux besoins de nos sociétés. Il rassemble des précurseurs, dont l’architecte et sociologue Yona Friedman. Membre du Groupe International d’Architecture Prospective, l’auteur du très à-propos L’architecture de survie (1978) prône notamment un urbanisme « spatial » : une « superstructure », démontable, déplaçable et transformable à volonté par l’habitant, qui pourrait venir se positionner au-dessus des villes existantes afin de libérer de l’espace au sol. Dans un autre style, Paul Maymont envisage un « Paris sous Seine », constitué d’aménagements souterrains qui permettraient de délester les quais pour les rendre piétons. Il dessine également des villes verticales suspendues, d’autres climatisées dans le désert et même un projet d’habitat lunaire. Préoccupés par les problématiques du monde contemporain que l’on connaît encore, ces visionnaires d’après-guerre ont surtout à cœur d’insuffler une part de poésie dans les villes modernes, et leurs propositions semblent encore inspirer les utopies de notre jeune XXIe siècle. Des architectes-artistes comme l’argentin Tomás Saraceno, « carte blanche » de la saison dernière au Palais de Tokyo, projettent même un futur « aérocène », marqué par l’avènement de villes aériennes mobiles traversant les frontières aux seules forces du vent et des rayons de soleil, sans jamais recourir aux énergies fossiles.

« Il est primordial de passer dès aujourd’hui d’une stratégie de réaction dans l’urgence à une stratégie d’adaptation et d’anticipation durable. »

Finalement, investir les sous-sols, les mers ou l’atmosphère n’est-il pas une option inévitable au vu de l’état de la Terre sur laquelle nous vivons déjà ? « Nous avons besoin d’un plan B. D’ici 50 ans, je n’ai aucun doute que nous habiterons la Lune, et à la fin du siècle j’espère sincèrement que les humains seront en mesure de vivre sur Mars », allait jusqu’à prédire le feu physicien Stephen Hawking. Fantasme chimérique pour certains, il s’agit d’un horizon possible pour d’autres : soutenue par la détermination du directeur général de l’Agence spatiale européenne (ESA) Jan Wörner, l’ONG « Moon Village » a vu le jour en 2017, rassemblant industriels, universitaires et associations dans le but de créer sur la Lune une base permanente, travaillant d’ores et déjà avec Foster + Partners sur la possibilité d’habitations imprimées en 3D. Sans même parler des entreprises américaines comme Vivos, se spécialisant dans la fabrication de bunkers à destination des « survivalistes » les plus paranos, les stratégies invoquées prennent bien (trop) souvent la forme d’une fuite. Objectif : éviter le déluge à tout prix. Des imaginaires qui relèvent moins d’une lutte contre les changements climatiques que d’une accommodation résignée sur le ton de l’abandon.


« On a pourri la terre donc maintenant on va envahir la mer ? Sur l’eau, sous l’eau ou dans l’espace, ce sont des environnements quand même moins hospitaliers », se rebiffe l’architecte Cyrille Hanappe. Les maquettes futuristes de villes surgies de nulle part ont beau être pleines de promesses, en attendant on se demande : que faire de toutes celles qui existent déjà ? « La ville la plus écologique, qui se réinvente, en plein développement actuellement, elle abrite déjà environ 2 milliards de personnes sur la planète : on appelle ça un “bidonville”. » Directeur pédagogique du diplôme de spécialisation « Architecture et risques majeurs » à l’École nationale supérieure d’architecture (ENSA) de Paris-Belleville, seule formation du genre en France, Cyrille Hanappe défend une vision urbaniste s’appuyant sur l’existant – et qui puisse parler au plus grand nombre, ceux qui n’auront pas les moyens de s’offrir le ticket pour la Lune. « Réfléchir à l’habitat de l’avenir, c’est se demander comment faire évoluer ces quartiers informels spontanés, les améliorer afin de diminuer les risques et que ça devienne des villes durables. » Il énumère ainsi des mesures « survival » beaucoup moins « start-up nation » que celles proposées par certains de ses confrères : se raccorder aux réseaux d’électricité et d’eau, aménager des couloirs de sécurité pour éviter la propagation en cas d’incendie, ou réhabiliter des savoir-faire traditionnels du type « puits provençal » (un système de climatisation rudimentaire, à partir d’un trou creusé dans le sol du logement, qui conserve une température constante de 17°C).

La contrainte pousse d’ailleurs à l’innovation : l’expérience révèle que c’est souvent lorsqu’on a le moins qu’on apprend finalement le mieux à survivre. Depuis 2006, le festival d’architecture expérimentale Bellastock cherche ainsi à bousculer les certitudes des étudiants en les plaçant quelques jours en conditions de « terrain ». Terre, fibres, paille, déchets, structures mobiles ou gonflables : chaque année, une nouvelle façon de bâtir est explorée par le biais d’un thème imposé. « Avec l’augmentation du nombre de réfugiés climatiques, économiques et politiques, les populations vont être de plus en plus amenées à bouger. Il va y avoir une explosion des projets d’architecture dite “d’urgence”, souligne Antoine Aubinais, le cofondateur de Bellastock. Une des idées du festival, c’est de faire un pas de côté, en testant ces approches alternatives qui vont s’imposer par la suite afin de répondre à ces enjeux. » Il manquerait peu de choses, d’après lui, deux ou trois techniques naturelles et simples, pour que les constructions les plus rudimentaires se parent de qualités environnementales accrues. Parce que dépendre de la « green tech », qui demande d’exploiter toujours plus de ressources, a ses défauts : « Il ne faut pas oublier le contexte d’ensemble : où puise-t-on nos matériaux ? Et que deviennent-ils après leur utilisation ? » En prévision de la destruction de nombreux bâtiments dans les années à venir, l’association Bellastock développe également une expertise autour du réemploi de matériaux dans le cadre de la « démontabilité » des ouvrages, afin d’en réinjecter les pièces dans de prochaines constructions – « une manière d’organiser une transition zéro déchet dans le BTP », l’un des secteurs les plus polluants au monde.


Signe que le microcosme de l’architecture évolue peu à peu, le pavillon français de la dernière Biennale de Venise en 2018 a mis à l’honneur des projets d’urbanisme collaboratif, des friches urbaines réhabilitées ou encore des espaces d’agriculture urbaine (les Grands Voisins, la Ferme du Bonheur, la Friche la Belle de Mai, les Ateliers Médicis, entre autres) – en somme : des « lieux » plutôt que des bâtiments. « L’invention d’un vernaculaire contemporain fait d’enjeux mondiaux et de matériaux locaux », résume le collectif Encore Heureux, choisi pour représenter la France lors du prestigieux événement, dans une tribune publiée quelques mois plus tôt. Il y vante également l’expérience de la ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, dont le mode de vie rappelle ceux liés aux « tiny homes » et autres « earthships ».

Ces mini-maisons écologiques sur roulettes, ou faites uniquement de matériaux de récupération, n’ont jamais autant été à la mode. À rebours de la tendance technophile, une civilisation écologique s’affirme, plus attentive à vivre qu’à survivre. « Nous sommes tous sur le même bateau, rappelle l’urbaniste et théoricien de renom Thierry Paquot. Il est hors de question d’isoler un écoquartier ici ou une île paradisiaque là. Tout est à entreprendre simultanément, ici et maintenant. » Des habitats économes et faciles à entretenir, entourés de champs cultivés en bio-agriculture, formant des « villes-paysages » et des « chapelets de bourgs » : tel est le futur désirable que dessine le philosophe. « La survie n’est que la partie tragique de la vie, celle-ci nous étant confisquée par le capitalisme liquide qui enveloppe toute l’humanité dans ses certitudes technologisées. Survivre, c’est déjà mourir. Mais vivre ne suffit pas. Il nous faut exister, c’est-à-dire édifier notre demeure sur Terre en instaurant la culture de l’amitié de l’humain avec le vivant. »

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Going deep

By: CLAD magazine
Issue 1. 2019


Snøhetta’s hotly anticipated submerged restaurant Under captures the imagination as part of a growing number of ever more ambitious and diverse underwater designs, says Stu Robarts

When what’s being billed as the ‘world’s largest underwater restaurant’ opens its doors this year, it will also be one of the most unusual. That’s because Snøhetta-designed Under won’t be welcoming guests with the tropical climes and fantastical seascapes of the Indian Ocean, but the rugged coastline of Lindesnes in Norway. Indeed, it’s the sea fauna and landscape of south Norway that Under is designed to celebrate.

“We had an ambitious and visionary client who wanted to build a restaurant underwater at the southernmost point of the Norwegian coastline,” explains Snøhetta project manager Rune Grasdal to CLADmag. “The Norwegian coast inhabits such beauty and the client’s ambition is to attract more people to experience the Norwegian nature and rough coastline up-close.”

The client – or rather clients, brothers Gaute and Stig Ubostad – actually approached Snøhetta with preliminary sketches at another nearby location. “We convinced them to build the restaurant a few hundred metres away, where the sea is actually rougher,” says Grasdal. “That meant moving the restaurant to have it directly out to the sea, but this makes a lot of sense, since Norway is a nation that is closely connected to the ocean, both culturally and economically. Under pays tribute to this legacy.

“In the beginning we spent a lot of time with designs that were too complicated, but we ended up doing things in a much more simple way. The building is a concrete tube that brings people from the land down to the sea and it’s a perfect harmony of the physical – the food – and the intellectual – the understanding and visualisation of marine life at Norway’s southernmost tip. Architecture is the key that brings these elements together.”

The building’s striking, auditorium-like form plunges below the waterline ready to showcase the rugged, submarine world to 80-100 guests at any given time. The view from the restaurant will be framed by a huge 11m x 4m acrylic window and “muted lighting” used to help stage the wildlife and seabed outside as they change through weather conditions and the seasons; Snøhetta consulted with marine biologists so as to avoid disturbing the sea-life as it goes about its business.

“The interior lighting is done in a very discreet way so we don’t get a reflection from the tables,” explains Grasdal.

“We used a sort of theatre approach to lighting, of course trying to hide the lights and being very careful with it. It will be possible to vary the strength of the light and also the colour to match the scenery outside the window.”

Guests will learn about the context of the site via info plaques along a trail leading up to the restaurant, providing a narrative about marine biodiversity and the Norwegian coast. When they arrive, they’ll enter at the uppermost of three levels, the “wardrobe area.” They’ll subsequently move down to a champagne bar bridging the waterline transition, both above and below. This will be emphasised by a tall window conveying the sense of depth and the space bathed in the subdued, coastal colours of shells, rocks and sand.

From the bar, guests will look down into the seabed-level restaurant, where tables will naturally be focused around the large window. Here, the aesthetic will blend darker blues and greens inspired by the seabed, seaweed and rough sea, with warm oak details helping to cultivate a cosy, intimate atmosphere. Oak will be used elsewhere too, contrasting the stark, concrete envelope of the building. A heat pump will harness the stable seabed temperature to heat and cool the building throughout the year.

The building itself will cover 600 sq m, weigh in at 1,500-2,000 tons and, at the restaurant level, sit five metres below the surface of the water. It was crucial that the final shape would be able to coexist with the force of the ocean, so the concrete shell is half a metre thick and the acrylic windows about 25 cm. A slightly curved shape allows the volume to better handle the pressure of the water and the impact of the waves, with the design said to be able to withstand a one-hundred-year wave occurrence.

The concrete shell of the restaurant was cast in the southern Norway city of Mandal and the building constructed on a barge so that it could be lowered into the sea when complete. That was in July 2018, at which point the structure was attached to steel rods to guide it as it was lowered to the seafloor.

Now in situ, it is designed to become a part of the marine environment, with the coarse concrete shell an ideal surface for mussels to cling onto. The building will become an artificial mussel reef, with the added benefit of the mussels purifying the seawater, thereby attracting more marine wildlife and giving guests a better view outside the restaurant.

In addition to serving guests a speciality menu of locally inspired dishes from both above and below the water when it opens its doors, Under will function as a research centre for marine life. Interdisciplinary research teams will study marine biology and fish behaviour, with researchers also working to optimise conditions for sea-life to thrive around the restaurant.

Feasting with fish
As unique as Under may be, it’s by no means the only restaurant of its kind. As you might expect, though, underwater restaurants are most famously found where the views are more paradisiacal, with the Maldives having dived in some years ago.

Claimed as the world’s first, Ithaa Undersea Restaurant at the Conrad Maldives resort opened in 2005. Like Under, it sits 5 m below the surface of the water, but it has a much smaller footprint. It also uses an arched design that is relatively simple to engineer and provides great strength against water pressure.

The 5.8 undersea restaurant at Hurawalhi Maldives uses the same arched design as Ithaa, but is a little larger and sits lower at 5.8 m below the surface of the water, hence the name.

Although pioneering in their own way, these early underwater restaurant designs were led by function, limited in the extent to which their form could really wow.

More recent, more ambitious and deeper is the Subsix restaurant at the Niyama Private Islands resort, also in the Maldives. Originally opened in 2012 as the “world’s first underwater nightclub” and repurposed in 2015, Subsix sits 500m off the coast; guests are whisked over to it by speedboat. The building, part above and part below the water’s surface, boasts an underwater eating area more in-the-round that under-arch, with a sumptuous interior and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the sea-life of the Indian Ocean.

Sleeping with fish
The natural progression from underwater eating is, of course, to underwater sleeping – and, naturally, the Maldives has a toe in the water here too. Part of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort along with the Ithaa restaurant, the Muraka opened its doors in November 2018 and is, again, said to be the first of its kind in the world, counting a two-level, above-and-below-the-surface residence as part of its offer. Long gone is the perfunctory arch: along with typical above sea-level spaces, guests have the run of an undersea bedroom, living space and bathroom.

Needless to say, where there’s extravagant innovation, there’s Dubai. Specifically, the Atlantis Dubai, where guests can stay in 165-sq m underwater suites, the floor-to-ceiling windows of which provide close-up views of all manner of sea-creature – but not the sea itself. The suites are part of the Ambassador Lagoon aquarium, bringing 65,000 marine inhabitants to its guests, rather than taking its guests to the ocean.

More conventional and also hailing from Dubai is the Kleindienst Group’s Floating Seahorse. The partially submerged floating homes provide over 370sq m of floor space across three levels, are kitted out with state-of-the-art technology and can be configured based on how the buyer chooses to use their underwater space.

The Underwater Room at the Manta Resort in Pemba Island, Tanzania, is a similar contraption. Part of an otherwise unassuming hardwood floating structure, the lowermost of three levels is a bedroom submerged in the waters of a marine conservation area.

Dreaming with fish
Not all underwater designs are so perfunctory; some are meritably ambitious and others outlandishly conceptual. Nemo’s Garden, developed by OceanReef, is less a building and more an underwater farm. Comprising six air-filled pods anchored off the Italian coast, the structure is used for experimental underwater farming, which provides a closed ecosystem to protect crops from parasites, eliminates the need for pesticides and offers an endless supply of water.

Soon to move off the drawing board, meanwhile, is Deep Ocean Technology’s (DOT) Water Discus. After announcing the completion of its research phase in October 2018, the company plans to begin designing the first of its underwater hotels this year. Resembling two stacked discs – one above the water, one submerged – the size of the Water Discus can be adapted based on its location, according to DOT, with the company citing diameters of between 30 m and 60 m in its literature.

Another radical design set to come to fruition is Waterstudio’s Sea Tree. Best known for its floating homes, the firm was commissioned to design a layered tower that could rise out of the water to provide a greenery-drenched ecosystem for wildlife both above and below the surface. With funding now in place from an investor, studio founder Koen Olthuis tells CLADmag that he expects construction of the first Sea Tree to begin this year.

Finally, and most imaginative of all, is the Ocean Spiral. Destined never to venture past the conceptual, the design explores an idea for an underwater city of the future, spiralling downwards from the surface of the water to its anchor at the seabed. Combining accommodation, farming, power generation and gondola transport, the concept imagines making use of the ocean’s potential for provision of food and water, energy generation, CO2 processing and resource harvesting.

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