Skip to content
Architecture, urban planning and research in, on and next to water
+31 70 39 44 234

Thailand tests floating homes in region grappling with floods

By Alisa Tang
Thomson Reuters Foundation



In this picture provided by Site-Specific Co Ltd, the 2.8 million baht ($86,000) amphibious house, designed and built by the architecture firm Site-Specific Co Ltd for Thailand’s National Housing Authority (NHA) rises up 85cm after architects and NHA staff fill a manmade test hole underneath the house with water during a trial run in Ban Sang village of Ayutthaya province September 7, 2013. REUTERS/Site-Specific Co Ltd/Handout via Reuters

AYUTTHAYA, Thailand (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nestled among hundreds of identical white and brown two-storey homes crammed in this neighborhood for factory workers is a house with a trick – one not immediately apparent from its green-painted drywall and grey shade panels.

Hidden under the house and its wraparound porch are steel pontoons filled with Styrofoam. These can lift the structure three meters off the ground if this area, two hours north of Bangkok, floods as it did in 2011 when two-thirds of the country was inundated, affecting a fifth of its 67 million people.

The 2.8 million baht ($86,000) amphibious house in Ban Sang village is one way architects, developers and governments around the world are brainstorming solutions as climate change brews storms, floods and rising sea levels that threaten communities in low-lying coastal cities.

“We can try to build walls to keep the water out, but that might not be a sustainable permanent solution,” said architect Chuta Sinthuphan of Site-Specific Co. Ltd, the firm that designed and built the house for Thailand’s National Housing Authority.

“It’s better not to fight nature, but to work with nature, and amphibious architecture is one answer,” said Chuta, who is organizing the first international conference on amphibious architecture in Bangkok in late August.

Asia is the region most affected by disasters, with 714,000 deaths from natural disasters between 2004 and 2013 – more than triple the previous decade – and economic losses topping $560 billion, according to the United Nations.

Some 2.1 billion people live in the region’s fast-growing cities and towns, and many of these urban areas are located in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas and river deltas, with the poorest and most marginalized communities often waterlogged year-round.

For Thailand, which endures annual floods during its monsoon season, the worsening flood risks became clear in 2011 as panicked Bangkok residents rushed to sandbag and build retaining walls to keep their homes from flooding.

Vast parts of the capital – which is normally protected from the seasonal floods – were hit, as were factories at enormous industrial estates in nearby provinces such as Ayutthaya. Damage and losses reached $50 billion, according to the World Bank.

And the situation is worsening. A 2013 World Bank-OECD study forecast average global flood losses multiplying from $6 billion per year in 2005 to $52 billion a year by 2050.


In Thailand, as across the region, more and more construction projects are returning to using traditional structures to deal with floods, such as stilts and buildings on barges or rafts.

Bangkok is now taking bids for the construction of a 300-bed hospital for the elderly that will be built four meters above the ground, supported by a structure set on flood-prone land near shrimp and sea-salt farms in the city’s southernmost district on the Gulf of Thailand, said Supachai Tantikom, an advisor to the governor.

For Thailand’s National Housing Authority (NHA) – a state enterprise that focuses on low-income housing – the 2011 floods reshaped the agency’s goals, and led to experiments in coping with more extreme weather.

The amphibious house, built over a manmade hole that can be flooded, was completed and tested in September 2013. The home rose 85 cm (2.8 feet) as the large dugout space under the house was filled with water.

In August, construction is set to begin on another flood-resistant project – a 3 million baht ($93,000) floating one-storey house on a lake near Bangkok’s main international airport.

“Right now we’re testing this in order to understand the parameters. Who knows? Maybe in the future there might be even more flooding… and we would need to have permanent housing like this,” said Thepa Chansiri, director of the NHA’s department of research and development.

The 100 square meter (1,000 square foot) floating house will be anchored to the lakeshore, complete with electricity and flexible-pipe plumbing.

Like the amphibious house, the floating house is an experiment for the NHA to understand what construction materials work best and how fast such housing could be built in the event of floods and displacement.


The projects in Thailand are a throwback to an era when Bangkok was known as the Venice of the East, with canals that crisscrossed the city serving as key transportation routes. At that time, most residents lived on water or land that was regularly inundated.

“One of the best projects I’ve seen to cope with climate-related disasters is Bangkok in 1850. The city was 90 percent on water – living on barges on water,” said Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio, a Dutch architecture and urban planning firm.

“There was no flood risk, there was no damage. The water came, the houses moved up and down,” he said by telephone from the Netherlands.

Olthuis started Waterstudio in 2003 because he was frustrated that the Dutch were building on land in a flood-prone country surrounded by water, while people who lived in houseboats on the water in Amsterdam “never had to worry about flooding”.

His firm now trains people from around the world in techniques they can adapt for their countries. It balances high-end projects in Dubai and the Maldives with work in slums in countries such as Bangladesh, Uganda and Indonesia.

One common solution for vulnerable communities has been to relocate them to higher ground outside urban areas – but many people work in the city and do not want to move.

Olthuis says the solution is to expand cities onto the water.

Waterstudio has designed a shipping container that floats on a simple frame containing 15,000 plastic bottles. The structure can be used as a school, bakery or Internet cafe.

Waterstudio’s aim is to test these containers in Bangladesh slums, giving communities flood-safe floating public structures that would not take up land, interfere with municipal rules or threaten landowners who don’t want permanent new slums.

“Many cities worldwide have sold their land to developers… and now when we go to them, we say, ‘You don’t have land anymore, but you have water,’” Olthuis said. “If your community is affected by water, the safest place to be is on the water.”

Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Laurie Goering

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Click here for the pdf

Click here for the website

Water Architect Koen Olthuis on How to Embrace Rising Sea Levels

Inhabitat, Bridgette Meinhold, July 2014

Sea levels are rising, floods are prevalent, and cities are at greater risk than ever due to climate change. Now that we’ve accepted these facts, it’s time to design and build more resilient structures. Koen Olthuis, one of the most forward-thinking and innovative architects out there, has a solution for rising sea levels. His solution: Embrace the water by incorporating it into our cities; creating resilient buildings and infrastructure that can handle extreme flooding, heavy rains, and higher water. Olthuis and his team at have been showing coastal communities the benefits of building on the water. With countries like the Maldives and Kiribati having to build oceanside or move in order to escape rising sea levels, New York learning to battle storm surges, and Jakarta dealing with massive flooding, embracing water may be our only option for survival. We chatted with Olthuis about how coastal cities can become more resilient in the face of change—read on for our interview!

Despite his busy travel schedule, Olthuis had a chance to answer our questions with a great amount of detail and thought. Not only is Olthuis a leader in designing floating architecture, he’s the most-interviewed architect on Inhabitat. We think very highly of his work and ideas, and we think you’ll agree after reading through his thoughtful answers about the pressing issue of climate change. Don’t worry, it’s not all gloom and doom though—Olthuis proposes a future full of hope and promise!

Inhabitat: What does climate change mean for cities on the coast, and how serious is a sea level rise of 1 meter?

Koen: I think that climate change is a serious problem for these cities because most of them have been built upon the wrong parameters. For centuries, sea levels and climate have been relatively stable, which has brought us urban plans and built environments that are too static—like a one-trick pony for one certain set of conditions. With the arrival of uncertainty in , we have to rethink our coastal cities.

The threat that climate change brings is not just the physical threat of floods and drowning, but also the financial impact of destroyed property and businesses. Through the last century, waterfront development has increased in value as well as assets. Flood threats will put pressure on available dry space and reset the parameters for which parts of a city are desirable, and which are dangerous.

The effect of a one-meter sea level rise (without any adjustment to coastal cities as they stand today) would completely reset maps and financial stability in many of the world’s biggest waterfronts. New York, Miami, and Guangzhou would lose an important part of their real estate to the water. Countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines would have to give up lots of land. In the Netherlands, many of the water defense systems that protect the country under sea level will no longer be safe.

The question of how serious a one-meter sea level rise would be cannot be answered without placing this question in a certain timeframe. Although cities may appear static, they’re in constant change. The lifespan of urban components like infrastructure, normal buildings, and water defense measurements isn’t more than 50-100 years. This means that if the change occurs within the next 50-100 years, cities have time to grow into components designed upon the new parameters. If the rise occurs faster, cities won’t have time to adapt naturally and problems will occur. The problem is that because sea level rise is quite slow, governments find it hard to deal with a long timeframe when short-term strategies will lead to immediate benefits.

Inhabitat: What do coastal cities need to be thinking about and planning for in order to prepare for the inundation of water?

Koen: First, they have to design plans with flexibility—not solely for today’s conditions. Second, they might be better off embracing the water instead of fighting it, seeing urban water as a chance to upgrade our cities rather than a side effect.

I think that a resilient city isn’t one that prepares for the water to come, but one that allows it to expand. By letting in water and making it part of the city, rising levels or storm conditions will only mean working with a bit more water instead of the big shock that comes when conditions go from dry to flooded.

Regarding planning, coastal cities should focus on which areas should be kept absolutely dry, which can be changed from dry to wet, and which existing waters can be used for expansion. The future of resilient coastal cities is on the water, and metropolises like London, Miami, Tokyo, and Jakarta will expand their territory by 5 to 10 percent on urban waters in the next 25 years.

Inhabitat: Can you give us examples of any cities making promising strides to become more resilient?

Koen: Many are slowly taking defensive measures to become more resilient, but there is one that seems to use a highly innovative path: Jakarta. This capital of 10 million is suffering not only from climate change, but also from urbanization. The soil is sinking at a speed of 15 centimeters per year, which raises flood risks and effects, and it’s getting polluted with saltwater, which has a huge effect on fresh water reserves. Instead of building only higher water defense systems like dikes, which wouldn’t solve the saltwater problem, they’ve chosen to embrace more innovative solutions provided by Dutch engineers and urban planners. The solution focuses on closing Jakarta bay with a dike, turning it into one big 100 km2 wet polder; a size needed to provide enough storage area for extreme weather conditions.

On this dam, a city of a million people will be built facing the old waterfront of Jakarta on one side and the ocean on the other. For architects focusing on floating architecture, this kind of artificial large-scale wet polder provides a big opportunity: in order to keep the storage as big as 100 km2 you cannot build in the water, but floating structures have no effect on storage capacity. Jakarta can become one of the most resilient coastal cities of Asia and still make money from these measures—fighting water with water by adding the storage polder.

Inhabitat: If you were put in charge of making, say New York City, resilient to flooding and climate change, what strategies would you implement?

Koen: New York is one of the most iconic cities in the world, and Manhattan is the benchmark for high-density urban developments, but this city has also evolved to accommodate the surge for space. The enormous land expansion over the river beginning in the 17th century provided the city with new space. The elevator facilitated building into the air, and the metro system took advantage of space beneath the city. Without any of these innovations, Manhattan would look completely different. The lesson here is that standing still doesn’t always benefit cities, and innovations (daunting though they may appear) can bring new prosperity.

The biggest problem that New York will have to face isn’t a steady one-meter sea level rise—because that can be overcome with a meter-high levee—but the effects of extreme weather. Storm conditions like Hurricane Sandy will raise water a few meters and yield heavy rainfall that cannot be transported to the river, since the river itself will rise to record levels. To keep the subway system dry in normal conditions, huge amounts of water have to be pumped out; any additional water could make the system flood.

New Yorkers haven’t embraced the waterfront as much other coastal cities. The view inside is more important than outside and the most valuable real estate can be found around Central Park. [There are] no nice boulevards like in the south of France; nice beaches or green habitats can be found at their manmade border between land and water.

Having said this, I would bring the strategy of fighting water with water to New York and start wetting up the city. If we raise the level of the water ourselves by a few meters, it won’t be any problem when nature does it. To raise the level of the river and still use it as such is impossible, but there’s another Dutch solution that could work. In Holland, existing polders are surrounded by artificial canals. The water in these canals is a few meters higher than the polder waters. They aren’t dug into the landscape, but put on top of the landscape with a dike on both sides to keep the water in. Water from the polder is pumped into the canal and then transported to the rivers or the sea. The canals can be artificially controlled, providing a kind of buffer, and can also be used for transport, and waterside houses. I’d like to create a necklace of small, connected artificial lakes around Manhattan; a system much like an extra canal with a higher water level than the surrounding rivers. This canal would be divided into sections that could be closed separately.

This new zone will take the place of the existing harbor quay—the river width wouldn’t be affected, but the result would be like a set of airbags around the city. In case of high tide, these cells would serve as storage polders that could release water when the storm had passed. These cells would change the edge of Manhattan: the water cells would look like small lakes, and new settlements could be built on the levees dividing them from the river. These lakes would all be connected, and they’d only be closed off from each other during storm conditions, like compartments in large cruise ships.

The artificial lakes would fill the space now used by the river docks, and have a flexible water level that would provide an enormous storage zone, providing safety encroaching seawater. As I imagine, there would be as many as 40-50 of these lakes, each as long as 4-6 blocks. Lakes for leisure, for green floating communities, lakes with harbors—the greener the better.

Inhabitat: With countries like the Maldives and Kiribati losing their land to rising sea levels, how do they respond and provide for their citizens? Buy property elsewhere or construct floating cities? Are there estimates on how much it would cost to construct floating countries?

Koen: The Maldives and Kiribati are both series of small islands in the middle of the ocean, which will be highly affected by any sea level rise. Without enough dry land available, these countries have to make the choice to become climate refugees or adopt floating technologies and become climate innovators.

In the Maldives, Waterstudio has designed floating island resorts and a golf course for developer Dutch Docklands. They are building a joint venture with the government of the Maldives, both as a tool to increase new possibilities for tourism, and to reinforce society with long-term floating developments. Floating islands with high-density affordable housing could be added to the existing islands to provide space and safety. Floating developments are scar-less and mustn’t have any impact on marine environment during or after their lifespan.

This could lead to floating countries, keeping in mind that the Maldives has 300,000 inhabitants. The cost of these floating islands is comparable with dredging islands, only that dredging destroys sea life and coral reefs. If I must make a reasonable guess I would say around $25,000 per person,  so for a city of 20,000 people it would cost 500 million dollars. This might sound like a lot, but it’s quite reasonable compared to evacuating a nation.

Inhabitat: How has your work changed over the years in response to the pressing needs of climate change?

Koen: The possibility of improving coastal cities worldwide with the implementation of floating urban components is just so challenging. It feels like we have only just discovered a small part of the potential that water could bring in making cities more resilient, safe, and flexible. I believe that projects like these will set new benchmarks for cities that would otherwise be in trouble because of climate change.

Our research seeks to change perception and dogmatic rules that traditional planners from the static era have put on us. I think that just in the last two years, iconic designs like the floating cruise terminal have developed an extra dimension—they’re part of a bigger vision that looks beyond iconic architecture to the economical impact it could bring.

My work has gone from designing for rich individuals to designing for the poor. We now design strategies for cities that have to adjust their planning approach because of shifting conditions due to climate change. The focus on slums has opened a whole new window of opportunity and has brought me in contact with many people who believe architects must use their influence and creativity to make a change for millions instead of only the happy few.

Inhabitat: Tell us briefly about your latest project, City Apps, and how it can help cities deal with climate change.

Koen: Miami and New York are the cities most threatened by sea level rise in terms of exposed real estate, but the populations most threatened by sea level rise  would be in Mumbai, Dhaka, and Calcutta. In these cities, millions live in dense slums close to water. In fact, one billion people worldwide are living in slums, and half of them can be classified as wet slums because of their relation to the water. People living in these areas are terribly vulnerable to flood danger. Efforts to help these cities should not focus on protecting the built environment, but on protecting essential functions during and immediately after floods. Slums can be helped by upgrading programs to improve life conditions for 100 million people before 2020, as stated in the 2003 UN habitat millennium goal.

Programs in wet slums are not generally upgraded, because investing in them is a risky business, as floods could potentially destroy any functions built in areas close to the water. We want to use our technical knowledge to provide floating functions on water for these wet slums.

Just as you can download apps on your smartphone according to your changing needs, you can adjust functionality in a slum by adding functions with City Apps. These are floating developments based on standard sea-freight containers, and because of their flexibility and small size, they are suitable for installing and upgrading sanitation, housing, and communication.

Inhabitat: What advances in technology, design, or materials have helped push your architecture forward?

Koen: In Holland, we have always been close to maritime technology. It is very exciting to take these technologies that are meant for things like offshore oil industries and use them to create a floating habitat for animals, birds and underwater creatures like the Sea Tree does.

I think the Internet and 3D visualization tools have really pushed my architecture forward because in an industry as young as floating architecture, it is only the power of visualization that can show the impact of floating developments for the city of tomorrow. The fact that we can spread our ideas around the world and get feedback, response, and help because of the digital revolution is unbelievable. If I would have started twenty years ago I probably wouldn’t have reached more than half of Holland, and Holland isn’t that big.

My designs are what we call “readable architecture”—product-like solutions that ask for simple and clear details. Not every material is suitable for that, and over the last three years we discovered sustainable composites that suit the architectural expression I want, and are ideal for projects in salty environments that require low maintenance.

But the most important advantage in technology is logistics. The fact that we now can produce our floating houses and developments in different countries and assemble them on the water without affecting the environment makes it possible for us to rethink economical models for large-scale production.

Inhabitat: What are you most excited about right now in this field?

Koen: I am most excited about how global mobile assets will enable cities in developing countries to leapfrog to higher prosperity. These assets are large-scale floating developments that are being invested in by very rich countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or Norway. These countries have so much money to invest that they cannot spend it all in their own country. Instead of investing only in wealthy world capitals, they’ll invest in flexible real estate, which can be leased to coastal cities.

It’ll start with functions like floating hotels and stadiums for cities that want to organize the Olympic Games but who cannot afford the investment. But it will rapidly evolve into an industry where cities that have been hit by climate change-related disasters can lease an entire set of functions like energy plants, hospitals, schools, and sanitation. Just like we do with our Floating City Apps for wet slums, there will be large-scale solutions to instantly upgrade cities and help communities recover. I see floating harbors and even small floating airports that’ll provide instant infrastructure to cities recovering from natural disasters.

The enormous financial capacity of these countries enables them to build global mobile assets up front on stock. So, imagine a safe floating location somewhere in Asia composed of completely functional urban components ready to be towed to any disaster area that appears. All the technology and money is already available—it’s only a matter of changing perception before floating developments are an essential part of the climate change reality that’s waiting for us. I say that not as a negative sentiment, because I believe that change will lead to innovation that will bring prosperity. The future is wet, the future is good!

Click here for the website

Devorar el mar

La Vanguardia Magazine, Eva Millet, May 2014

En el 2001 se sumergió la primera piedra de la llamada Palm Jumeirah: la más pequeña de las tres islas artificiales del proyecto Islas Palm, frente a la costa de Dubái. El emirato del golfo Pérsico empezó el siglo XXI inmerso en un frenesí constructor que no sólo preveía dominar el desierto y levantar el edificio más alto del mundo, sino también expandirse hacia el mar. En un lugar donde hasta hacía poco la hoja de palmera era el material constructivo básico, la silueta de este árbol, incrustada sobre el agua, formando la primera de las islas, se convirtió en una demostración de fuerza para unos y de megalomanía para otros.

En el 2001 se sumergió la primera piedra de la llamada Palm Jumeirah: la más pequeña de las tres islas artificiales del proyecto Islas Palm, frente a la costa de Dubái. El emirato del golfo Pérsico empezó el siglo XXI inmerso en un frenesí constructor que no sólo preveía dominar el desierto y levantar el edificio más alto del mundo, sino también expandirse hacia el mar. En un lugar donde hasta hacía poco la hoja de palmera era el material constructivo básico, la silueta de este árbol, incrustada sobre el agua, formando la primera de las islas, se convirtió en una demostración de fuerza para unos y de megalomanía para otros.

En Panamá, la llamada Cinta Costera, 26 hectáreas de terreno ganadas al mar, es ya una realidad: incluye una nueva autovía y numerosas zonas verdes. En el Mediterráneo, el Principado de Mónaco, un densísimo paraíso fiscal con mucha demanda de vivienda, ha decidido seguir ganando terreno al mar en este siglo, creando un nuevo barrio en la zona de Portier. En total, una superficie de seis hectáreas que incluirá una lujosa zona residencial y comercial y una marina para los yates.

El proyecto, una apuesta personal de Alberto II, el actual príncipe, ha sido otorgado a una constructora francesa y a tres despachos de arquitectura, entre los que destaca el del premio Pritzker Renzo Piano. No han trascendido planos ni imágenes virtuales, pero se sabe que la inversión superará los mil millones de euros y el proyecto se completará hacia el 2024. Una iniciativa similar, del doble de extensión, fue diseñada en el 2008 por los también arquitectos estrella Daniel Libeskind y Norman Foster. Se abandonó la idea debido a la crisis financiera mundial y, también, a motivos medioambientales.

El medio ambiente no parece ser una preocupación en los Emiratos Árabes: para sentar las bases de las dos primeras Islas Palm se requirieron casi 300 millones de metros cúbicos de arena, dragada del fondo del mar. Las obras fueron tan agresivas que, según diversos estudios realizados, se ha dañado de forma casi irremediable el ecosistema marino, además de llenar de cieno las otrora cristalinas aguas del golfo de Dubái.

La tercera fase, la llamada Palm Deira, precisó un volumen aún mayor de materiales, mientras que el archipiélago El Mundo (300 islas artificiales que conformaban la silueta de los países del planeta) arrojó otro gran número de toneladas de piedras y arena al fondo del mar antes de pararse, también por causas financieras, pero no medioambientales.

De todo lo desarrollado en menos de una década en el mar frente a Dubái, solamente está habitado el Jumeirah, donde se construyeron –y vendieron a precios astronómicos– decenas de villas y apartamentos. Según el diario inglés ‘The Daily Telegraph’, sus residentes se quejan hoy de las igualmente astronómicas facturas de electricidad que pagan por el aire acondicionado, que han de tener encendido de forma casi permanente. También se han dado problemas ocasionales con la fontanería que les han obligado, en más de una ocasión, a utilizar los baños públicos de uno de los centros comerciales existentes. La Palmera cuenta, por supuesto, con varios de estos complejos, además de las marinas y los hoteles de lujo que se publicitaron con el proyecto.

Lujo es un sustantivo que se repite constantemente en la actual tendencia de construir sobre el mar. En el siglo XXI vivir sobre el agua es signo de exclusividad. Algo chocante si se tiene en cuenta que (Venecias aparte) a lo largo de la historia, este hábitat ha sido sinónimo de precariedad. En Asia, los más pobres, los marginados, son quienes han vivido tradicionalmente mecidos por las mareas: como los tankas, que habitan en juncos en las zonas costeras del sur de China, Hong Kong y Macao y a quienes se les llama “los gitanos del mar”. En el Pacífico, los bajaut laut o “nómadas del mar” son una tribu remota y pobre que habita en barcazas de las que prácticamente no descienden o en cabañas construidas sobre postes a varios kilómetros de la costa.

El sistema de los postes ha sido copiado en muchos centros turísticos de lugares como la República de las Maldivas, donde las ristras de coquetos bungalows sobre las aguas del Índico se han convertido en sinónimo de vacaciones soñadas. Abundan en todo este país, compuesto de 1.200 islas, y es un modelo que se ha exportado a otros destinos similares.

Ahora, en una vuelta de tuerca, el Gobierno de Maldivas ha puesto en marcha un proyecto bautizado Las 5 Lagunas, que pretende urbanizar cinco atolones del paradisiaco archipiélago con infraestructuras flotantes. Se promoverán desde viviendas de lujo e islas privadas hasta un campo de golf y un centro de congresos, todo flotante. El proyecto se ha encargado a la empresa holandesa Dutch Docklands, especializada en estructuras de este tipo.

La compañía, con sedes en Amsterdam, Dubái y Maldivas, confirma vía correo electrónico que ya se ha iniciado la construcción de la primera fase: “Se llama La Flor del Océano y consiste en 185 impresionantes casas sobre el mar, conectadas por un embarcadero, formando esta flor, que es el símbolo nacional de las Maldivas”, explica Klaas Boon, uno de sus responsables. Añade que las viviendas están a la venta “bajo la exclusiva etiqueta de Christie’s International Real Estate” y que los precios se sitúan “sobre el millón de dólares por villa”.

El arquitecto del proyecto es el también holandés Koen Olthuis, cuya compañía, Waterstudio, se describe como la primera firma de arquitectura dedicada en exclusiva a “vivir en el agua”. Olthuis, de 42 años, se define como un pionero en “un nuevo mercado” que lleva la arquitectura “más allá de la costa, creando nuevas posibilidades flotantes para ciudades en crecimiento por todo el mundo”. La prognosis, explicada desde Waterstudio, es que, hacia el 2050, aproximadamente el 70% de la población mundial va a vivir en áreas urbanizadas. Dado el hecho de que el 90% de las ciudades más grandes del mundo está en la costa, “hemos llegado a una situación en la que estamos obligados a replantear el modo en el que vivimos con el agua”.

Contactado telefónicamente Olthuis, pionero de las islas flotantes, mientras se encontraba de vacaciones en la sólida Mallorca, explica que para él, construir sobre el mar es tanto una moda como una necesidad. “Expandir la ciudad hacia el mar, en casos como Nueva York, Tokio, Hong Kong o Singapur, ciudades cada vez más densas y pobladas, ha sido una necesidad”, explica. “Pero en el futuro las ciudades necesitarán más flexibilidad: las urbes cambian constantemente, por lo que lo interesante sería hacer ciudades flexibles, en el agua: edificios flotantes con distintas funciones, que puedas mover con bastante rapidez según las necesidades”, señala.

Olthuis añade que, dado que cada vez son más la urbes amenazadas por las subidas del agua, si se apuesta por construir edificios que floten, el peligro de inundaciones se minimiza. “Así que creo que construir sobre el mar se basa en tres cosas: la seguridad, el espacio y la flexibilidad –resume–. Aunque también hay una moda, una tendencia, porque los arquitectos y los urbanistas e, incluso, los gobiernos, vemos las posibilidades del agua. Cada vez hay más gente que se interesa por el tema!”.

La idea holandesa resulta, como mínimo, más discreta, comparada con los megaproyectos de Dubái, la isla artificial de Yas, en Abu Dabi (un monumental parque temático y comercial que se empezó a construir en el 2006) o la ambiciosa Pearl City, en marcha en Kuwait (una ciudad que quiere llevar el mar al desierto).

Olthuis asegura que fabricar las estructuras flotantes fuera del sitio y anclarlas al fondo marino es altamente sostenible. “Si un siglo después sacas nuestro proyecto –afirma–, no quedarán cicatrices en el paisaje, porque son edificios flotantes. No hay obras, no vertemos toneladas de arena ni dañamos el medio ambiente. Y eso es lo que el Gobierno de las Maldivas busca, porque no quiere estropear lo que atrae a la gente a la islas”.

Los promotores también recuerdan que el archipiélago podría ser uno de los primeros países del mundo en desaparecer por el aumento de los niveles del mar. “Por eso, para ellos, es esencial introducir nuevos modos de construir ciudades sobre el agua”, reiteran los diseñadores holandeses. Que este proyecto es casi la solución a la amenaza del cambio climático se repite como un mantra en la información (tanto gubernamental como privada) sobre él. Aunque, si las aguas suben debido el calentamiento global, no parece que la respuesta más efectiva sea construir villas para multimillonarios en lugares vírgenes como las Maldivas o en islas artificiales como las de Dubái… Pese a la diferencia de escala, en ninguno de los casos aparece la supuesta función social de la arquitectura.

“Sí, es cierto que lo que estamos haciendo en Maldivas está dirigido, por un lado, a los superricos, a la gente que podrá pagarse esas viviendas –admite Olthuis–. Sin embargo, todos los conocimientos tecnológicos que ganamos con estos proyectos podrán aplicarse a otros con función social. Estamos en conversaciones con el Gobierno de Maldivas para llevar a cabo un plan de vivienda asequible para la población de la capital, donde hay serios problemas causados por la densidad”.

Pero estos argumentos no convencen a todos. “Unas islas flotantes son turismo masivo”, asegura, rotunda, Pilar Marcos, la responsable de la campaña de costas de Greenpeace España. “Los atolones son espacios coralinos, supuestamente protegidos, y como no tienen prácticamente terreno, ya que la franja costera es nula para el desarrollo urbanístico, se ha ideado este sistema de chalecitos flotantes que, aunque parezcan muy monos, tienen un impacto que es brutal”, agrega.

Las organizaciones ecologistas como Greenpeace denuncian la mercantilización del medio natural en todo el mundo, donde el mar abierto parece ser la nueva frontera. “No conformándonos con destruir la primera línea de costa, como se ha hecho en España, ahora vamos a ir a ganar terrenos al mar”, denuncia Marcos. Para Greenpeace, casos como el de Dubái, que han tenido unas nefastas consecuencias medioambientales, ya han demostrado que al mar es mejor dejarlo tranquilo. “Se acude a él tratando de buscar más espacio o una confortabilidad en una zona que, como Dubái, es una locura, por la ausencia de agua y de recursos naturales… Es algo aberrante: el querer convertirse en destino turístico a toda costa y que pague el medio ambiente”, indica.

Marcos señala que con estos proyectos, a menudo justificados por motivos económicos, se hace caso omiso al propio sector turístico, que demanda cada vez más espacios protegidos y no masificados. Además, en el Índico, señala, la presencia de nuevas infraestructuras, como casas y hoteles, hace que se pierden las características naturales del mar, “que ya no va a ser tan cristalino como antes…; el desarrollo de los recursos naturales no nos va a sacar de pobres”, concluye. ¿Aunque se insista en su sostenibilidad?

Con esto, advierte la activista de Greenpeace, hay que ir con muchísimo cuidado, pues a la clásica justificación económica para mancillar el medio natural, hoy se le suma la tendencia del ‘greenwashing’, literalmente, “lavado en verde” o vender como ecológico y sostenible algo que no lo es, esté en el Mediterráneo, en el desierto de Dubái o en un atolón de las Maldivas.

Click here for the website

Künstliche inseln

Kultur Austausch, February 2014

Amillarah is the Maldivian word for Private Island.This unique project exists of 43 floating private Islands in a archipelago configuration.The exclusive Villas all have a private beach, pool and natural green with bushes and trees. A private jetty is the mooring place for the yachts.At the end of each jetty, a small pavilion is situated.A boutique Hotel provides all the needed services to these Private Islands.

Click here for the website

Back To Top