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‘Floating Homes’ technology has demonstrated usefulness

By Fane Lozman
Miami Herald



It is an unfortunate reality that those who currently live on Eastern Shores in Maule Lake will have to abandon their homes in the next 30 years because of rising tides. The only residents around Maule Lake will be the Amirillah floating islands, and any new developments built after Miami 21-like building codes are enacted.

The current Eastern Shores residents should be making plans now for where they will be moving once North Miami Beach condemns their residences for sea water intrusion. Instead, their fears are focused on the floating islands and reflect a total lack of knowledge about floating technology that has been proven over the last century.

Just like floating oil rigs moored to the ocean floor survive Category 5 hurricanes without being torn off their moorings, floating islands use similar technology. The land-based houses around Maule Lake would be swept clean off their concrete pads as the eye wall of a hurricane similar to Andrew made a direct hit, while the Maule Lake floating islands wouldn’t slide an inch off their permanent moorings.

Even more impressive is that these foam-cored, reinforced concrete islands are unsinkable, even after being pelted with 200-mph, windswept debris from the destroyed houses on shore.

The West Coast of the United States has thousands of floating homes that are a welcome addition to their communities in Washington, Oregon and California. The Maule Lake floating-island residences will introduce a new generation of floating homes to the East Coast. They will be completely self-sustaining and have the “greenest” footprint of any dwelling in South Florida.

The landlubbers whose attitude is that “I got to Maule Lake first and no one else should ever join me” forget one thing. The actual lake bottom is privately owned, and the submerged lands do not belong to those who are fortunate to live on its borders. Perhaps a 50-foot-high floating privacy screen running on the east side of Maule Lake would be soothing to these residents so they would not have to be jealous of their floating neighbors?

The floating islands will also help solve a simple reality that the political leaders of North Miami Beach can no longer ignore: New sources of tax revenue will be desperately needed to supplement the hidden pension demands of civil employees (i.e. police) over the coming years.

The 29 floating islands that will be assessed at $12.5 million each will bring in a staggering $363 million in new property assessments. This windfall for the city will be further magnified by the increased tax assessments for the Eastern Shores residents as their droopy neighborhood wakes up to become part of South Florida’s most unique residential community.

Like any new technology, whether it was the Wright brothers’ first airplane flight, or the $3 billon Perdido oil rig anchored in 2,438 meters of water in the Gulf of Mexico, there are “talking heads” that will refuse to accept the inevitable march of technology. It makes one wonder: How many Eastern Shores residents still have horse and buggies in their back yards?


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Water Architecture: A chat with Waterstudio and Koen Olthuis

By Enrique Sánchez-Rivera
La Isla

We were intensely captivated by Waterstudio after seeing them featured on National Geographic Magazine. Their incredible innovation skills and clear understanding about the future of architecture and our planet was obvious and ever so present in all of their plans and their current work. From a partially submersed ecological tower to floating islands in the shape of stars, Koen Olthuis and his team are shaping up the future for a post-antarctic ice meltdown era.

1.  Can you tell us how Waterstudio got started and why?
When I was a young architect, I became fascinated by the structure of the Dutch landscape with its water and land. At that time, living on water was still limited to the well-known traditional houseboats. After two years of combined land and water projects, I started up Waterstudio, the first architecture firm in the world exclusively dedicated to living on water. I was a pioneer in a new market. To bring the market to maturity, the main focus
was to change the perception of the general public. Waterstudio began with an ambitious plan to develop innovative concepts in both technological and urban design fields. My conviction that living on water is essentially no different from living on land, just with a different foundation technique, spurred me on to develop types of housing with greater density and higher quality than the usual houseboats in a recreational countryside setting.
2.  If you could define what you do in a sentence, what would it be?
We bring Architecture beyond the waterfront, creating new floating possibilities for growing cities World wide. And to add a second sentence: we have a lot of fun!
3.  Where do you find inspiration for your designs?  Floating structures and underwater urban environments are incredibly new to us so we are curious to know this.
I see architecture as products, since floating buildings are not fixed, their context can change and they are more or less independent from their environment.
May of our ideas are based on shapes and products from nature. I like architecure that looks simple and recognizable. So for instance the starfish design for the greenstar hotel in the Maldives is a design that every child can redraw ones they have seen it. I call this readable architecture.
4.  How expensive do you think it will be to live on a floating structure vs. a land structure?
The price of a building on a floating foundation is comparable to a house on a fixed foundation, the exact price depends on the type of water, deep, shallow, waves, calm water etc.. , Making a floating building for calm water on a lake with less height difference is cheaper to construct than a building in the middle of the ocean.
One of the benefits of construction a floating building is that they don’t have to be constructed on their final location because you can move them afterwards. They can be constructed in a factory, weather doesn’t influence the building process, this makes it faster, easier and cheaper. Nowadays contractors are not used to constructing a floating foundation, when this type of foundation will be more standardized in future the construction of it will be even more cheaper.
5.  How did the idea of the sea tree come along?  Can you tell us about it? When will it be completed?
This is my favourite project.Our inspiration in regards to creating Sea Tree came from a project in Holland where ecologists challenged us to design a habitat for fauna which could not be disturbed by human beings. Water is, of course, a perfect way to keep people away. Other sources of inspiration were the shapes of floating oil storage structures in Norway and the shapes of land trees with a large crowns. Lastly, the concept was developed from park zones in urban areas. We divided these areas into sections and placed them vertically on top of each other. In the end, it has become a vertical hangout for wildlife! We are now in the middle of negotiations with an oil company to see if they will be the sponsor for the project. It will be a green advertisement of their outstanding offshore technology. They could show that from their knowledge also animals and local habitats could benefit.  The sea tree will be built in an protected nursery and afterwards shipped out to its location on water in a city. This would bring an instant green upgrade!
6.  Do you see yourselves also designing underwater environments at some point?  Does that concept also align with your vision?
We already do this. We have a client in Curacao who wants an underwater room. So for him we design a projects in which we have windows under water. In that project we also design the shape of the floating body underwater so that coral and fishes can start use this structures for shelter and basis.
7.  Obviously we like the idea of floating-everything, after all, we make bikinis!  Which of your buildings or projects do you think would be best suited for a bikini fashion show?!
That should be our floating islands for the Maldives called Amillarah.  The girls will enter the show via a small submarine through a hole in the ground of the island and then use the fantastic white artificial beach with real sand and palmtree as a catwalk while the audience gather around the islands  on their yachts.


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Dutch solution to Miami’s rising seas? Floating islands

By Jenny Staletovich
Miami Herald



Maule Lake has been many things over the years: industrial rock pit, aquatic racetrack, American Riviera. Now it is being pitched as something else entirely: a glitzy solution to South Florida’s rising seas.

In the land of boom and bust where no real estate proposition seems too outlandish — Opa-locka’s Ali Baba Boulevard connects to Aladdin Street in one of the more kitschy bids to sell swampland — a Dutch team wants to build Amillarah Private Islands, 29 lavish floating homes and an “amenity island” on about 38 acres of lake in the old North Miami Beach quarry connected to the Intracoastal Waterway just north of Haulover Inlet.

The villa flotilla, its creators say, would be sustainable and completely off the grid, tricked out to survive hurricanes, storm surge and any other water hazard mother nature might throw its way. Chic 6,000-square-foot, concrete-and-glass villas would come with pools, boathouses or docks, desalinization systems, solar and hydrogen-powered generators and optional beaches on their own 10,000-square-foot concrete and Styrofoam islands.

Asking price? About $12.5 million each.

If this sounds like a joke, think again. This, as the Dutch say, ain’t no grap.

“We’re serious people,” said Frank Behrens, vice president of Dutch Docklands, which has partnered with Koen Olthuis, one of Holland’s pioneering aqua-tects.

Still, it’s hard not to be skeptical.

“It’s both fantastic and fantastical,” said North Miami Beach City Planner Carlos Rivero, before adding, diplomatically, “This is quite a departure.”

Behrens won’t say exactly how much the company has invested so far but suggested it is enough to take the plan seriously.

“Look who I’m sitting next to,” he said during an interview, pointing to Greenberg Traurig shareholder attorney Kerri Barsh and Carlos Gimenez, a vice president at Balsera Communications and son of the county’s mayor, both hired to help ensure the project’s success. “This isn’t like, ‘Oh, let’s buy a lake and do a project and make money.’ It’s ‘Let’s buy a lake and show people what we’re capable of.’ ”

Together Dutch Docklands and Olthius’ firm, Waterstudio.NL, have completed between 800 and 1,000 floating houses in Holland along with 50 other projects including — if there were any question about their design chops —a floating prison near Amsterdam. The team is also constructing the first phase of a 185-villa floating resort in the Maldives — Behrens said 90 have already sold. Olthius also designed a snowflake-shaped floating hotel in Norway, floating mosques in the United Arab Emirates and even a floating greenhouse out of storage containers usually used by oil companies.

The team believes that by building an extreme example of a floating house in Miami, with every bell and whistle imaginable, it can open up a new American market to a way of building that has addressed rising waters in the Netherlands for a century.

“We chose Miami because we know this city is one of the most affected cities by sea-level rise,” Olthuis said by phone from Holland. “Once it’s done, you’ll see it’s a beautiful archipelago effect in the lake.”

So can you get a mortgage? Buy windstorm insurance? Declare a homestead exemption?

Yes, yes and yes, Barsh said. Practically speaking, the barge-like structures are considered houses, not boats, she said. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision on a Riviera Beach houseboat that Barsh helped argue cleared the way by declaring floating homes real estate. After the victory, Barsh started talking to Behrens — they met through the Dutch Chamber of Commerce he founded in Miami in 2011 — about Dutch-style floating homes in the United States.

“Before, there was a lack of clarity,” Barsh said. The court decision “opened up an opportunity for this development to go forward.”

Barsh, who also represents rock-mining interests, says such projects could potentially provide a valuable way to reuse rock pits scattered throughout South Florida.

But what would it mean for the manatees that lumber through the saltwater lake, which is designated critical habitat?

Protections would remain in place, the team said. And the islands, with specially contoured undersides, could provide a habitat for sea life, Behrens said.

Still, making the project fit local laws could be tricky. In a preliminary review by the North Miami Beach city staff, Rivero raised questions as mundane as the need for parking. The city’s civil engineer wondered about stormwater runoff, among other things. And police say they would need a boat from the developer to patrol the islands. There’s one other thing: North Miami Beach’s rules for such developments so far apply only to land.

Luis Espinoza, spokesman for the county’s Division of Environmental Resources Management, said county officials would need to evaluate the islands for environmental impacts. And there’s the matter of taxes.

“If it’s a permanent-type fixture, then it will be assessed as property,” property appraiser spokesman Robert Rodriguez said.

Over the next 100 years, scientists predict climate change will alter water on a global scale. Seas will swell and coasts will shrink. Weather will become more extreme, with stronger hurricanes, harder rains and higher floods. Even routine tides will rise. And almost nowhere else will those effects likely be more dire than in South Florida, where beachfront highrises and marshy suburbs sit on soggy land kept dry by a complicated network of canals, culverts, pumps and other controls.

So solving the problems of coastal living in the 21st century could be lucrative.

“Here in Miami, it’s an artificial landscape, manipulated by mankind at a very high cost,” said Dale Morris, an economist with the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C., who is not connected to the Amillarah project. “So to think it can be maintained at no cost is nuts. I’m an economist. Nothing is free in this world.”

The floating islands, he pointed out, do nothing to solve larger climate problems for cities in South Florida, where flooding now occurs with normal high tides in Miami Beach.

Florida, like Holland, will have to tackle gradual sea rise in addition to event-related flooding like hurricane storm surges, Dutch landscape architect Steven Slabbers said at a recent workshop on resilient design in Miami.

“It’s an inexorable, decade-by-decade phenomenon,” he said.

Considering other Dutch designs — protective dunes tunneled out to hold parking, parks that become ponds and highways that float — a rock-pit-turned-floating-housing by using drilling rig technology might not seem so farfetched.

In recent months, the last new project on Maule Lake, Marina Palms, has shown that demand for lakefront property with Intracoastal access is high. Condos in the first of two buildings, which got the glam treatment this year on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing Miami, sold out. But Maule Lake has not always been a twinkling star in the real estate firmament. It began life as a rock pit, when E.P. Maule moved from Palm Beach in 1913. Maule Industries would become the state’s largest cement manufacturing plant before falling into bankruptcy in the 1970s after it was purchased by Joe Ferre, whose son, former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, managed the company.

“That area was rich in rock pits, quarries and concrete manufacturing,” explained historian Paul George, who said the rock pits pocked the largely industrial area well into the 1960s.

The porous limestone mines fill with water from the area’s high water table. The new lakes provided even more waterfront property to an area already rich with water views, creating a developer’s dream — and possibly an environmentalist’s nightmare.

In addition to worries about marine life, building on the lake may raise concerns about water quality and potential effects on the nearby Biscayne Bay aquatic preserve and the Oleta River, another protected ecosystem. There might also be a question of encroaching on some of the area’s rare open space.

“We have a history in South Florida of viewing open spaces as a pallet for more product to be built on,” said Richard Grosso, a Nova Southeastern University law professor and director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic. “Florida’s always been a place where we’ve suspended the laws of nature and physics and people haven’t always taken into account that there’s a finite amount of space.”

Gimenez, the public relations executive who is also a land use attorney, said the Dutch team has already met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about concerns. The team also plans to meet with neighbors. And while nothing has officially been submitted, he said no one has raised objections. The 7- to 13-foot-deep lake, he pointed out, is too deep to harbor much marine life or sea grass.

Gimenez also said floating islands are better than the alternative: filling the lake and building highrises. Once mined, rock pits are sometimes refilled with construction and demolition debris. Developers in Hallandale Beach, for example, are filling a 45-acre lake with debris to build an office park. Rivero, the planner, said a North Miami Beach ordinance prohibits the lake from being filled, although property trustee Raymond Gaylord Williams, who had the property listed with a local Realtor for $19.5 million, could challenge that.

But getting a variance from a county ordinance regulating waterways could be a feat, since so few are granted, said land use and environmental attorney Howard Nelson.

“Let’s face it, [what developer] wouldn’t rather replace a houseboat with a houseboat office,” he said. “All of a sudden you don’t have the bay anymore. You just have dock space after dock space after dock space with offices.”

Behrens, a former banker who grew up in Aruba and was CEO of a Miami-based Dutch distillery, said the team has been meeting with various regulatory agencies to size up the obstacles since 2013 and will resolve issues as they come up. They hope to have permits completed within the next year and a half, he said.

“It’s a step-by-step approach,” he said. “But we’re Dutch. …We know how to stay and how to make success.”


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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.

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Think Dutch, Build on water



Think Dutch, Robert Thiemann, Jeroen Junte & David Keuning, Dec 2013

Think Dutch! does not make any fundamental distinction between design and architecture. The book groups together the work of the young creative generation into 16 chapters with titles such as “Build on Water”, “Celebrate Food”, “Don’t Create for Eternity” or “Get Educated”. It poses thought-provoking questions such as: “Does this design yield new insight?”, “When does it make sense to use bio-degradable materials in architecture?” and “How can we establish self-sufficient food chains?” It is this critical approach to creative work that has become integral to Dutch architecture and design in recent decades.

This book presents 476 diverse architectural and design projects and products, devised by some of the most creative contemporary minds in this field; all provide positive proof of cutting-edge thinking, and investment in sustainable futures, exciting ideas that are inspirational, leading the way towards a brighter future.

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From sustainability to sustainaquality

Marina World, March 2013

Nestled in the Indian Ocean between Minicoy Island and the Chagos Archipelago, the Maldives comprise a chain of 26 atolls made up of islands and reefs. Tropical weather, white sand and clear water make the islands a popular holiday destination and a haven for divers but, while the surrounding ocean teems with life, home to coral reefs, eels, sharks, turtles, dolphins, manta rays and over 1,100 other species of fish, rising sea levels pose serious threat. Charlotte Niemiec reports on an ambitious community and tourism project aimed at keeping the Maldives afloat.

The average ground level in the Maldives is just 1.5m and the island’s president, Mohammed Nasheed, has warned that  even a ‘small rise’ in sea levels would eradicate large parts of the area. Envisioning a future for its people of “climate refugees living in tents for decades” the Maldivian Government has teamed up with Netherlands- based company Dutch Docklands  International in a Joint Venture Project to build a solution to the problem in the form of man-made floating islands. The ‘5 Lagoons Project’ will provide housing, entertainment and guest complexes for visitors to the Maldives, expanding its footprint and further bolstering the area’s tourist economy.

A star-shaped hotel and conference centre – the ‘Green Star’ – symbolises the Maldives route to combat climate change. Its many five- star facilities will include pools, beaches and restaurants. A ‘plug and play’ system allows for each leg of the star to be removed for easy refurbishment and  a temporary one floated in and placed in position. It is hoped the centre will play host to international conferences on sea level rise, climate change and environmental issues. It is scheduled to open in 2015.

Across the water, relaxation is  to be found at an 18-hole floating golf course. With panoramic ocean views, golfers can enjoy the driving range, short games practice areas, putting greens and a 9 hole par 3 Academy course. A separate area on the island provides romantic homes and townhouses in Venetian style, in a village offering boutiques, ice cream parlours, restaurants, bars and ultra- luxury palatial style villas. Movement around the island – assembled in archipelago form – is via bridges or glass tunnels in the ocean, which give guests the opportunity to enjoy the area’s sea life up close. A marina of international standard will also be built on this island.

Amillarah – the Maldivian word for private island – will consist of 43 floating islands offering luxury $10 million villas for sale to the public. Facilities will include a private beach, pool and green area, private jetty and small pavilion on a purpose-built island (the shape of which the buyer can design in advance), situated in the centre of an exclusive, large private water plot just a short swim away from the coral reefs. For those who  baulk at the price tag, a separate development, the ‘Ocean Flower’ offers less expensive housing starting at $1 million. The Ocean Flower is located upmarket in the North Male atoll, 20 minutes by boat from the capital and airport, and will offer villas on three different scales. All have private  pools and terraces and are fully furnished, while shared facilities include a beach, shops, restaurants, a diving centre, spa, swimming pools and easy access to the surrounding private islands. The Ocean Flower will open mid-2014, with construction beginning soon. Finally, the White Lagoon project consists of four individual ring-shaped floating islands each with 72 water villas connected. The rings function as beach-boulevards with white sand and greenery. A marina will be built inside the rings and a variety of restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques will be available.

Dutch Docklands is the master developer of the project and it controls the design, engineering, financing, construction and sales. It has appointed as its architectural firm. Dutch Docklands CEO, Paul van de Camp, is excited about the project, viewing it as the beginning of large- scale floating projects in the area. He believes that if the project is successful, it will have proved the ability of the Maldives to combine the preservation of vulnerable marine life while expanding land for the reinforcement of tourism and urban developments at the same time. The project is an equally important one for the company and will be used  as a benchmark business model for concepts around the globe. The joint venture with the Maldivian Government, which brings the needs and demands  of the nation together with the commercial aspirations of Dutch Docklands is, van de Camp says, a very solid and long- lasting basis for such a big project.

Understandably, there are significant challenges to be faced when building on water. The biggest, van de Camp explains, is logistics: “We build most of the floating structure off-site, in a production yard outside the Maldives, and larger parts  in the shipyards around the Indian Ocean and in the Netherlands. To get all the floating products there at the right moment (‘just-in-time’ management) at the final location ready for assembling is a pretty tough task.”

However, building on the ocean also has distinct advantages over  building on land, as Dutch Docklands’ co- founder Koen Olthuis explained last year at the UP Experience Conference in Houston, USA. In the open ocean, tsunami waves are mere ripples beneath a structure that floats; water is the perfect shock absorber to seismic waves; and concerns over sea-level rise are eliminated when your home rises with it.

The islands will be constructed using patented technologies, which include the use of very lightweight Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) components and strong concrete structures. In line with Dutch Docklands’ focus on ‘scarless developments’, the materials used are environmentally-friendly, causing hardly any impact to marine life. Paul van de Camp emphasises that any possible impact on the environment is noticed upfront, while the design is on the drawing board. Using the expertise of marine specialists, marine engineers and environmental consultants, the design is adjusted at the first sign of negative impact.

At a cost of over $1 billion and funded by private shareholders, the developments are luxury resorts, catering for the more elite visitor.  But van de Camp explains that the  5 Lagoons Project aims to provide a whole range of resort and business activities from reasonably-priced to ultra-luxurious. The Green Star hotel will provide the best-priced rooms, with the floating palaces in the golf course at the top end of the market.

With headquarters in The Netherlands, Dutch Docklands has a long and varied history with water. Its home country has battled against water for centuries – 20% of the country lies below sea level and water is controlled using dikes and canals. Koen Olthuis has a vision of the future in which we  do not fight water but live with it and upon it. A man inspired by out-of-the- box inventions such as the elevator, which allowed cities to build up rather than span out horizontally, Olthuis sees water as another platform on which to build. It is his belief that, as so many of the world’s cities lie close to water, we should utilise this space and not just defer to the argument that there is no more space. Paul van de Camp shares this vision of a future in which floating developments are commonplace, creating new space and saving threatened ocean nations.

Click here for the website

A visual log

cities@sea, Samuel David Bruce, October 2013


Here’s an excerpt of the match report Archie, my roommate from Glasgow wrote. I didn’t play because of the egg sized mound I grew on my forehead after getting knee’d in the head last weekend. I’m traveling quite a lot in October and I want to keep the limited mental capabilities I have working in ship shape. But still I got a shout-out!

The game started brightly for the Rotterdammers, within 5 minutes putting pressure on the men from Utrecht. The ball was snapped out inside the 22 from captain Mikey ‘12:30 SHARP’ Hornby to stand-off ‘Uncle’ Archie Pollock, pop-passing to new boy Sander Korel, who bashed his way through 3 defenders to crash down for 5 points. It was the first showing of a strong game from the young upstart Korel, who was to finish as joint man of the match. More points soon followed, as Dirk ‘here comes the hot stepper’ de Raaff ghosted by the Panther defense, breaking his side stepping virginity past one player in a particularly strong solo run. The step was so powerful however, that it damaged his tendons, and de Raaff will now be sidelined for several months, along with other notable injuries Pieter ‘we score more points, we win de game’ Joosse, Frank ‘crabhand’ Nijenhuis, ‘Bram the tram’ van den Pasch, and ‘so good they named him thrice’ Samuel David Bruce, who expertly donned the club bear mascot outfit and added at least 10 points to the score line.

On friday I took the train up to Amsterdam to meet Tracy Metz, a journalist who recently published a book called ‘Sweet and Salt: Water and the Dutch.’ The book is a beautiful artifact. It explains how the Netherlands’ manages its complex and dynamic relationship with water and points out what the rest of the world can learn from the Dutch. Alongside co-author Maartje van den Heuvel, Metz’s writing and use of photography, art-historical analysis, and architectural design shows how the Netherlands’ battle with both sweet (fresh) and salt water has evolved over the centuries.

Her book has put her into the global spotlight. She’s the spokesperson at water management conferences, a lecturer all over universities in the U.S., and a go-to for journalists and writers investigating these issues. Although she described herself as “no expert,” she certainly is.

Ms. Metz told me that she is shell-shocked about the success she’s had on her book. She hears her name called all over the place, but automatically thinks ‘who? me?’ We talked for an hour about the research I’ve done so far. She seemed to enjoy flipping through my sketchbook. Her lunch date at the end of my hour with her was with the Consul General of the United States in Amsterdam, Randy Berry. From the State Department: Mr. Berry’s career with the State Department has also taken him to postings in Bangladesh, Egypt, Uganda (twice), and South Africa, as well as Washington DC.  Mr. Berry holds a State Department Superior Honor Award, and is a nine-time Meritorious Honor Award recipient.  He speaks Spanish and Arabic. It was very cool to get to shake his hand and tell him about my Watson project. He told me he could connect me with some people in places I’m heading out to later on in the year.

Later on that Friday afternoon, I stumbled by a print shop. Reproductions of old maps of Amsterdam caught my eye. I went inside and started chatting with the shop owner, an Amsterdammer who has lived in the city his whole life. I never caught his name, but he started telling me some pretty interesting things–his hypotheses about why the Dutch are the way they are. Growing up, his Dad was a collector, so thats how he starting getting into collecting maps, prints, etchings, and other artworks that he now sells in his tiny little underground shop. He sells original works and reproductions. The shop owner seemed to be very knowledgable about Dutch history–probably because he knows a lot about the background behind the images he sells. These three things from our conversation stuck out–

1. Because of the North Sea fishery there was always a great abundance of fatty, fresh herring. The Dutch never had to worry about feeding themselves and could focus on other issues, like patching up and draining their deltaic landscape, building ships, making trading routes, and inventing technology. The fish set Dutch up on a platform for success.

2. Because of the nature of the delta landscape, survival required co-operation. The Dutch needed to work together, look each other in the eye, make compromises, quell their individual egos and work together to create a landscape that was habitable. They needed to use their collective talents. This essentially explains how the water boards began. Dikes were built by the farmers who would directly benefit from them. But as the systems for water management became more complex, they needed an overseeing body to govern. Nothing could be accomplished alone.

3. Because of the work required on the land, the Dutch were naturally tall and built…during the Roman ages, Cesar’s royal guards were often from the Netherlands because of their beastly stature.

It was a fun experience, getting some Dutch cultural history from a guy in a printshop.

oday I traveled to a suburb in between the Hague and Delft to meet an architect, Koen Olthius who exclusively builds on water. In 2007 he was #121 on Time’s list of the world’s most influential people. He was such a friendly, outgoing guy and instantly made me feel as though he was as interested to talk to me as I was to talk to him. Besides all the fascinating things he taught me about his work and how it has developed over time, I saw first hand how important it is to treat people you’re with with interest and kindness. My hour with Koen Olthius reminded me of this article here, where the author talks about his encounter with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In short, the author meets Hugh Jackman on the street and has a great first impression. Here’s the short of it:

In three minutes, Hugh Jackman turned me into a fan for life–but he didn’t sell me. He didn’t glad-hand me. He just gave me his full attention. He just acted as if, for those three minutes, I was the most important person in the world–even though he didn’t know me and has certainly forgotten me.

Just like a CEO, as an entertainer he is his “company,” and even though I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, I now see his “products” in a different, more positive light. 

That feeling totally occurred after my meeting with Mr. Olthius. When I got there, one of his colleagues gave me a free copy of his book, ‘Float!’ We sat down and talked, the whole time he explained things, he’d diagram what he was saying on architecture tracing paper so I have this long 8 foot string of tracing paper with a visual transcription of our conversation. It’s very cool.

I’ll say more about our conversation in the next post. But this is a fantastic overview of his vision. Great for anybody interested in urban issues and/or architecture!

His main point is to make cities more dynamic by opening up space up inside the city by building on a floating foundation. In doing so, he can combat a number of problems that arise from urban growth and climate change.

It was an absolute treat to talk to him!

Tomorrow, I’m back up to Amsterdam to meet a professor at the University of Amsterdam. Prof. Dr. Jeroen Aerts works at the Institute for Environmental Studies. He is a professor in the area of risk management, climate change, and water resources management.

I have a painting in the works of Tracy Metz, but I unfortunately ran out of paint and don’t think it’s worth it to spend money on more because I don’t to lug it around as I travel around Europe in October.

Click here for the website

Click here to for the video

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