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A floating city in the Maldives begins to take shape



Acity is rising from the waters of the Indian Ocean. In a turquoise lagoon, just 10 minutes by boat from Male, the Maldivian capital, a floating city, big enough to house 20,000 people, is being constructed.
Designed in a pattern similar to brain coral, the city will consist of 5,000 floating units including houses, restaurants, shops and schools, with canals running in between. The first units will be unveiled this month, with residents starting to move in early 2024, and the whole city is due to be completed by 2027.
The project — a joint venture between property developer Dutch Docklands and the Government of the Maldives — is not meant as a wild experiment or a futuristic vision: it’s being built as a practical solution to the harsh reality of sea-level rise.
An archipelago of 1,190 low-lying islands, the Maldives is one of the world’s most vulnerable nations to climate change. Eighty percent of its land area is less than one meter above sea level, and with levels projected to rise up to a meter by the end of the century, almost the entire country could be submerged.
A rendering of the Maldives floating city shows how the colorful buildings will be linked up by a network of canals. Credit: Koen Olthuis,
But if a city floats, it could rise with the sea. This is “new hope” for the more than half a million people of the Maldives, said Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio, the architecture firm that designed the city. “It can prove that there is affordable housing, large communities, and normal towns on the water that are also safe. They (Maldivians) will go from climate refugees to climate innovators,” he told CNN.

Hub of floating architecture

Born and bred in the Netherlands — where about a third of the land sits below sea level — Olthuis has been close to water his whole life. His mother’s side of the family were shipbuilders and his father comes from a line of architects and engineers, so it seemed only natural to combine the two, he said. In 2003, Olthuis founded Waterstudio, an architecture firm dedicated entirely to building on water.
At that time signs of climate change were present, but it wasn’t considered a big enough issue that you could build a company around it, he said. The biggest problem then was space: cities were expanding, but suitable land for new urban development was running out.
Want to future-proof your home from rising sea levels? Make it float
However in recent years, climate change has become “a catalyst,” driving floating architecture towards the mainstream, he said. Over the last two decades, Waterstudio has designed more than 300 floating homes, offices, schools and health care centers around the world.
The Netherlands has become a center for the movement, home to floating parks, a floating dairy farm, and a floating office building, which serves as the headquarters for the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), an organization focused on scaling climate adaptation solutions.
Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of GCA, sees floating architecture as both a practical and economically smart solution for rising sea levels.

The Global Center on Adaptation head office is anchored in the Nieuwe Maas River in Rotterdam.

The Global Center on Adaptation head office is anchored in the Nieuwe Maas River in Rotterdam. Credit: Marcel IJzerman
“The cost of not adapting to these flood risks is extraordinary,” he told CNN. “We have a choice to make: we either delay and pay, or we plan and prosper. Floating offices and floating buildings are part of this planning against the climate of the future.”
Last year, flooding cost the global economy more than $82 billion, according to reinsurance agency Swiss Re, and as climate change triggers more extreme weather, costs are expected to rise. One report from the World Resources Institute predicts that by 2030, urban property worth more than $700 billion will be impacted annually by coastal and riverine flooding.
But despite momentum in recent years, floating architecture still has a long way to go in terms of scale and affordability, said Verkooijen. “That’s the next step in this journey: how can we scale up, and at the same time, how can we speed up? There’s an urgency for scale and speed.”

A normal city, just afloat

The Maldives project aims to achieve both, constructing a city for 20,000 people in less than five years. Other plans for floating cities have been launched, such as Oceanix City in Busan, South Korea, and a series of floating islands on the Baltic Sea developed by Dutch company Blue21, but none compete with this scale and timeframe.
Waterstudio’s city is designed to attract local people with its rainbow-colored homes, wide balconies and seafront views. Residents will get around on boats, or they can walk, cycle or drive electric scooters or buggies along the sandy streets.

The capital of the Maldives is hugely overcrowded, with no room to expand besides into the sea.

The capital of the Maldives is hugely overcrowded, with no room to expand besides into the sea. Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images AsiaPac
It offers space that is hard to come by in the capital — Male is one of the most densely-populated cities in the world, with more than 200,000 people squeezed into an area of around eight square kilometers. And prices are competitive with those in the Hulhumalé (a manmade island built nearby to ease overcrowding) — starting at $150,000 for a studio or $250,000 for a family home, said Olthuis.
The modular units are constructed in a local shipyard, then towed to the floating city. Once in position, they are attached to a large underwater concrete hull, which is screwed to the seabed on telescopic steel stilts that let it gently fluctuate with the waves. Coral reefs that surround the city help to provide a natural wave breaker, stabilizing it and preventing inhabitants from feeling seasick.
Olthuis said that the potential environmental impact of the structure was rigorously assessed by local coral experts and approved by government authorities before construction began. To support marine life, artificial coral banks made from glass foam are connected to the underside of the city, which he said help stimulate coral to grow naturally.

Residents can get around the city by boat, and it's only around a 10-minute ride to the capital and international airport.

Residents can get around the city by boat, and it’s only around a 10-minute ride to the capital and international airport. Credit: Waterstudio.NL/Dutch Docklands
The aim is for the city to be self-sufficient and have all the same functions as one on land. There will be electricity, powered predominantly by solar generated on site, and sewage will be treated locally and repurposed as manure for plants. As an alternative to air conditioning, the city will use deep water sea cooling, which involves pumping cold water from the deep sea into the lagoon, helping to save energy.
By developing a fully functioning floating city in the Maldives, Olthuis hopes this type of architecture will be propelled to the next level. It will no longer be “freak architecture” found in luxurious locations commissioned by the super-rich, but an answer to climate change and urbanization, that’s both practical and affordable, he said.
“If I, as an architect, want to make a difference, we have to scale up,” he said.
By Nell Lewis & Milly Chan
CNN style

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Water hazard! $500 million floating golf course planned for Maldives

CNN, Will Tidey

You’ve just finished a round of golf on a floating course in the middle of the Indian Ocean. An underwater tunnel leads you to the clubhouse, where a glass elevator drops down to a main bar that doubles as a spectacular natural aquarium.

It might sound far-fetched, but a $500 million development in the Maldives is set to make the world’s biggest water hazard a reality — and at the same time offer a potential long-term solution to the threat of climate change in the area.

Designed by floating architecture specialists Dutch Docklands, the proposed site is just a five-minute speedboat ride from Maldives capital Male, and will offer 27 holes of golf, set upon three interlinked islands.

The government-approved development will also boast around 200 villas, 45 private islands and a conservation center — and all at little or no cost to the wildlife-rich coral reefs it will call home, according to the people behind it.

“We told the president of the Maldives we can transform you from climate refugees to climate innovators,” said Paul van de Camp, CEO of Dutch Docklands.

“And we have a way of building and sustaining this project that is environmentally friendly too. This is going to be an exclusively green development in a marine-protected area.”

With over 80 percent of their 1,190 coral reef islands no more than a meter above sea level, the Maldivian government is at the forefront of the battle against climate change.

As sea levels reach dangerous levels, one option is to build defense walls, as they have around Male. Another is to buy land from other countries and effectively move their population to other areas. The third is to live on floating landscapes.

“Climate change is upon us and the Maldives are feeling it most. That’s why they’re leading the way in trying to find a way to combat the problem.” said Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at the Nature Conversancy.

“But building on floating islands clearly comes with a risk of pollution. Golf courses need pesticides and you need to deal with that properly to make sure it doesn’t get into the ocean. There’s also the issue of desalinating the water to irrigate the course. That has to be done cleanly too.”

Dutch Docklands appear to have a green solution. They plan to capture pesticides in concrete troughs, and recycle them in a fresh water “sweet lakes” in the middle of the golf course afterwards. That same water will then be used to irrigate the course.

When it comes to the environmental cost of constructing the islands and developments in the first place, the solution is far more straightforward.

“We’ll be building the islands somewhere else, probably in the Middle East or in India,” said designer Koen Olthuis, the man whose vision will be realized when work officially starts on the project later this year.

“That way there’s no environmental cost to the Maldives. When it comes to the golf course, the islands will be floated into position first, and then the grass will be seeded and the trees planted afterwards.”

Troon Golf, who will be lending their expertise to the project in designing the course itself, stressed the economic benefits that could result from the construction in a release issued from their headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The scar less development, which has zero footprint on the Maldives region will include state-of-the-art golf courses that look set to bring a wealth of new tourism and investment to the country,” said managing director Bruce Glasco.

But Spalding is not getting carried away. With some of the world’s most valuable coral reef real estate at stake, he plans to watch the development closely and treat all environmental claims with caution.

“I just hope the Maldives government have been wise enough to not just fall for rhetoric,” he said.

“In an ideal world a development like this would be on land, but the world is changing. I just hope they get it right. If they do, this type of development could be a harbinger of things to come.”

If things go to plan, Van de Camp expects the golf course to be ready for play by the end of 2013, will the full development set to launch in 2015. And he’s in no doubt visiting golfers will be in for a treat.

“This will be the first and only floating golf course in the world, and it comes with spectacular ocean views on every hole,” he said.

“And then there’s the clubhouse. You get in an elevator and go underwater to get to it. It’s like being Captain Nemo down there.”

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