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Are Blue Cities a future of urban life?

By Evolve Arena & Björn Audunn Blöndal
Evolve arena


The ocean might be the prime real estate of the future cities. This is what Equinor Innovation Team is set to explore in a series of expert workshops on the topic of floating cities.

The idea to explore Floating Cities at Evolve Arena in 2018 was initially brought by Anastasia Malafey, project leader at Evolve Arena in the meeting with Margaret Mistry, Strategy & Innovation projects leader at Equinor Innovation Team. Their common understanding that this can create new business applications and solve global urban development problem made them continue the dialog and turn discussion into action.

— For Equinor, the ocean space has been a massive source of value creation and competence building. Over the past 40 years, we have become the biggest offshore operator, we know marine operations, and we are a world leader on floating wind turbine farm market. Far from shore is where we feel close to home, says Anders Hegner Hærland, vice president at Equinor Innovation Team.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

Equinor, formerly Statoil, have established Equinor Inovation Team to look into new business opportunities for the traditional oil and gas company. Its role is to explore and mature radical ideas and business model innovation. With a legacy stretching more than four decades back, Equinor, former Statoil, have drilled, built and run project both far out and deep into the sea. With high end skill, competence and a worldwide network of suppliers, Equinor is one of the companies most suited for being a major player in the arena of building the future of floating cities.

To kickstart a phase of exploration and learning Equior have invited companies, architects, engineers, urbanists and visionaries to a series of workshops. The workshops are facilitated by Xynteo and will be held in Equinors offices on Fornebu outside Oslo and other sites. The sessions are also live broadcasted to off-site participants.

— Building on our experience of the ocean as a commercial space, it still feels like a big step to the inspiring vision of Floating Cities. To most people, it might seem like a distant idea, but today major cities are running out of space to grow. Infrastructure is overloaded and quality of life for inhabitants diminished, Anders Hegner Hærland explains.

— The phase we are embarking on now is the exploration phase, says Margaret Mistry, Strategy & Innovation Projects Leader in Equinor Innovation Team.

— Evolve Team is grateful to see the high level of engagement and interest from Equinor Innovation Team, Xynteo and all partners involved. Now it is time for Equinor to step out of its comfort zone and become a spearhead and leading force toward new alternative applications of its competence and experience in solving major global challenges. We believe this explorational sessions and event at Evolve Arena give us unique opportunity to connect innovators, creative minds and industries and build clear momentum toward sustainable society, says Anastasia Malafey, project leader Evolve Arena.

— It’s an invitation to join us in exploring these possibilities together. Our conviction is that the technology, the commercial ideas, and the other ingredients for making floating cities a reality are within our grasp. But realizing them will require more than any one company can achieve alone. So we must begin with dialogue and collaboration, Margaret Mistry explains.

Floating cities represent a huge potential for urban development, food production, energy generation and minerals extraction on and under the water nearby coastal cities.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

The first keynote speaker kickstarting the sessions is Koen Olthuis, visionary architect and CEO of Waterstudio, a dutch architectural firm that is set to develop solutions to the problems posed by urbanization and climate change. Olthuis compares the future of floating cities with smartphones populated with apps.

— Why can’t we use the cities like we use the smartphone? Why can’t we have floating buildings with different functions that we can move in and out as we need them — like floating city apps.

Olthuis elaborate how we can see projects as a service. Like for instance the Olympics, why do we build large stadiums and other facilities that is only used for a few weeks during the games? Why can’t we see expensive buildings like a floating stadium as a global asset that can be moved wherever the games are arranged? Qatar has already plans for renting huge cruise ships and connect them to a floating harbour and use them as hotels during the Olympic Games.

Blue Tech for Blue Cities
Building on water, done correctly, can also have huge environmental impact
Olthuis calls it blue tech for blue cities focusing on energy reduction, energy production and energy storage. As an example he mentions a breakwater project in New York that Waterstudio contributed in where huge rotating pillars serves both as breakwater, providing shelter and safe harbourage, as well as a dynamo, generating renewable energy.

Floating solar panels is another field of focus, as the global benefit of moveable panels would have enormous impact, and be of great value where electricity is needed.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

Floating structures can also be beneficial for life at sea, both above and under the water. Olthuis have designed large steel structures based on existing offshore oil platforms. Built with layered floors with threes and plants above the water and aquatic plants under sea level, this can stimulate a wildlife oasis in urban areas.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

— Oil companies have used these floating storage towers for years, we only gave them a new shape and function, Olthuis explaines.

To bring floating cities at scale we must move from pioneering, innovation and experimenting to standardization and regulations. At the same time we should take advantage of this phase of experimenting, because when things are standardized, the innovation will slow down, says Olthuis.

— Lack of regulation makes it simpler to experiment.

Olthuis emphasise that floating cities is not something that is happening in a science fiction future. Its happening now. There are several projects already in progress all over the world.

— Its not like we are building huge cities in the middle of the ocean. The first floating cities will be hybrid cities where part of the city is on the mainland and new facilities and functions are added on the water like an extension of the city. This kind of tech and mindset can change the structure of a city in a real short period of time.

In Desember Oslo will be the scene for a ground breaking exhibition and conference Evolve Arena on the theme of shaping the future of our cities. Equinor and Xynteo will host one of the side events workshops at the Evolve-conference.

Is blue cities the future of urban life?

— We will use the Evolve platform to host another creative work session with partners where we hope to emerge with a better understanding of where we can play a role and a unifying idea about the solutions that will bring affordable and viable floating cities a step closer to realisation, says Margaret Mistry.

Article deliver in collaboration with Björn Audunn Blöndal / PRESSWORKS

Cover picture: Floating harbor with cruice ships as temporary hotels by Koen Olthuis /WATERSTUDIO

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These Houses Have the Ultimate Water View

By Sam Lubell
The New York Times
Photo credit: Credit Miquel Gonzalez

Floating villas in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, south of Rotterdam. Designed by Waterstudio.NL, the villas use heat exchange power and have extra-large foundations to create terraces and other outdoor spaces.

Few places in the world are as married to the water as Venice. Not only has the Floating City replaced streets with canals and land with islands, but its buildings also sit on wooden piles, driven into the ground deep below the water. Like much of the sea-hugging world, the city is also facing an existential threat as the waters rise and its ground sinks.

The city’s art and architecture Biennales (the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale starts on Saturday and runs through Nov. 11) have long reflected this simultaneously magical and dire condition, with exhibit after exhibit addressing sustainable architecture, climate change and rising seas.

Many have even drifted along Venice’s canals themselves, including Mike Bouchet’s (doomed) floating house; Croatia’s floating pavilion; Kunle Adeyemi’s floating school; Joana Vasconcelos’ floating artwork, Trafaria Praia; and Aldo Rossi’s floating Theater of the World.

As is so often the case, life is imitating art, and floating architecture is emerging as one of the built world’s most promising markets — for many of the reasons pinpointed at the Biennale.

“We see architects as spanning between infrastructural ideas and society,” said Yvonne Farrell, one of the Biennale’s directors, who posits that if architects can take a leading role on vital environmental issues through emerging technologies like floating buildings, then they can also help re-establish their primacy in the construction process.

“You cannot not deal with environmental issues if you’re an architect these days. It has to be an essential part of your value system,” added Shelley McNamara, who is also one of the directors. “We’re all connected. We have to find solutions where art and culture and industry can all find a way to survive.”

Architects, boat builders, developers and city planners worldwide are seizing on the opportunity as cities run out of space to build, tides continue to rise and demand for efficient construction spikes. They’re creating inventive designer homes and floating resorts, and even floating cities that can be prefabricated off site and simply floated into place.

“For many, floating is something new and adventurous,” said Max Funk, co-editor of “Rock the Boat: Boats, Cabins and Homes on the Water” (Gestalten, 2017). The book reveals an explosion of creativity in buoyant architecture, including an egg-shaped floating cabin in England, floating spas (with working saunas) in Finland and the United States, and floating geodesic domes in Slovenia.

“Having a floating home used to be something only for vacationers or the uber-wealthy,” Mr. Funk said. “Now more people are realizing they can do it. And with downsizing becoming a trend, it goes along with the idea that quality of life is more important than size.”

Claudius Schulze, whose floating art studio graces the cover of “Rock the Boat,” built his 32-foot-by-16-foot timber-sided box, coated in fiberglass resin, for about 20,000 euros (about $24,000) with the help of friends, including a structural engineer. It has state-of-the-art amenities like Wi-Fi, onboard water filtration and solar power. It has its own motor (technically making it a houseboat), and Mr. Schulze has used it in, and en route to, Amsterdam, Paris and Hamburg, Germany, mooring it in each location for about €200 a month.

“It really is the perfect studio space,” he said. “It has all the inspiration and little of the distraction.”

On Seattle’s Lake Union — which has hosted floating homes since the 1920s and now has more than 500 of them — William Donnelly has lived in a multilevel floating home designed by Vandeventer & Carlander architects for more than seven years.

“I enjoy smelling the water, hearing the water,” he said. “I love the idea that my home isn’t fixed to the land. It’s freeing.” It’s not all perfect — the lake is popular, and sometimes his tightly surrounded home feels like a fishbowl — but he said that he would never live on land again.

Thanks to such situations, and to the rise in the price of waterfront property, the market for floating architecture is growing in North America, said Allison Bethell, a real estate investor analyst at Newer homes and their slips are not cheap, but since the market is young and houses are limited in size, they are rarely as expensive as prime waterfront real estate.

Outside of Seattle, where houseboat construction is being curtailed because of the potential impact on local salmon populations, Ms. Bethell said, the most prominent areas in North America for floating homes are the San Francisco Bay Area; Vancouver, British Columbia; Key West, Fla.; and Portland, Ore.; where the number of floating homes has doubled since 2012.

The trend is also expanding rapidly in Asia and the Middle East, but it is furthest along in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, which is mostly below sea level. Estimates report that the country now has more than 10,000 floating residents, none more densely packed than in Ijburg, a growing development of floating homes clustered off man-made islands on the eastern edge of Amsterdam.

Over 50 of these residences — featured in the 2014 U.K. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale — were designed by Marlies Rohmer Architects & Urbanists and developed by Amsterdam-based Monteflore. The simple, industrial-inspired homes, floating on concrete bases (the current norm) were fabricated in a factory and floated into place.

“Most of the world now lives in cities, and most cities are near water,” said Ton van Namen, managing director of Monteflore. He said his team was working on a floating development along the west coast of Wales, and had been approached by interested parties from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates.

Koen Olthuis, an architect from the Netherlands who founded Waterstudio.NL, one of more than a dozen European firms specializing in boutique buoyant homes, sees floating architecture as the future. He said he had built more than 150 floating residences in the last 15 years, including a group of floating villas in Dordrecht, south of Rotterdam, that use heat exchange power and have extra-large foundations to create terraces and other outdoor spaces.

Now he is increasing his repertoire as both a designer and a planning consultant for floating hotels, restaurants, stores, resorts and private islands, and even floating cities.

“Blue cities,” as he calls them, can be more flexible and eclectic, and respond faster to rapidly changing demands from society and industry.

“I’ve talked to many urban planners, and they all say the same thing — by the time a city’s plan is finished, it’s no longer in line with society.”

He has consulted with officials in Rotterdam, the Maldives, Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia, on flood-safe construction, smoother regulations for floating architecture, and how to float needed facilities, like a harbor, into place when needed. He envisions floating museums and factories shared by nearby cities.

“Once the elevator was invented, the whole recipe for a city changed,” Mr. Olthuis said. “Now a similar thing is happening on the water.”

The transformation of the typical floating building is, like most things in Dubai, going ahead full steam — thanks in large part to the Finnish company Admares, whose chief executive, Mikael Hedberg, started as a shipbuilder and now merges land and sea-based construction technologies.

Admares in 2016 completed the Burj Al Arab Terrace, a 2.3-acre island, attached to the sail-like Burj Al Arab tower, containing pools, cabanas, sun loungers, and a restaurant and bar. It was built in a factory in Rauma, Finland, floated into place in six pieces and then driven into the seabed via piles.

Besides location, what especially draws clients, Mr. Hedberg says, is the fact that since structures can be built off-site, on-site construction time is cut way down. The Burj Al Arab Terrace was set onto piles and welded together in about three months, subverting a landfill process that can take up to three years.

And unlike construction on landfill, floating buildings and islands create minimal ecological disturbance. Often floating platforms and piles, like those at the Terrace, serve as habitats and valuable cover for marine life.

The rise of floating design — and issues related to both rising tides and sinking cities — are having a clear impact on land, where designers and officials contend with water whether they like it or not. In many ways, floating buildings serve as laboratories for our new environmental reality.

Mr. Olthuis has helped create a development in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where “amphibious” homes — sitting on buoyant concrete bases and tethered to supports — can float in the event of flooding. (The Los Angeles firm Morphosis created a similar system for its modular, foam-cored Float House in flood-prone New Orleans.) He is also developing hybrid structures that can float on the water and, through a jack system, sit on land, making them even more flexible to personal and urban change.

“Land itself is no longer fixed in the way we’ve traditionally seen,” said Kristen Hall, an urban designer at Perkins & Will, which is incorporating water-reactive solutions for its new Mission Rock development at San Francisco’s Mission Bay, like pile-supported buildings, streets and sidewalks, and flexible utilities. “The question is, how much do you plan for change and roll with the change, and how much do you try to resist the change?”


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Koen Olthuis bij WNL Op Zondag, 4 februari 2018

Feb. 4 2018

De zondag begint met Rick Nieman. Met nieuws, vrolijke kwesties en prominente gasten. Partijleider Henk Krol van 50Plus strijdt tegen de aflosboete. Anna Dijkman over de nieuwe serie Stand van Nederland. Jeroen van Koningsbrugge en Dennis van de Ven over politieserie Smeris. Architect Koen Olthuis met een fascinerend verhaal over drijvende steden.

WNL Op Zondag

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