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What lies beneath: our love affair with living underwater

How the 1960s craze for oceanic exploration changed our relationship with the planet

By Chris Michael
The Guardian

In November 1966, the Gemini 12 spacecraft, carrying two astronauts, splashed down in the Pacific. The four-day mission was a triumph, proving that humans could work in outer space, and even step into the great unknown, albeit tethered to their spacecraft. It catapulted the US ahead of the USSR in the space race.

From then, Nasa’s goal was to beat the Russians to the moon. That meant weeks rather than days in space, in an isolated, claustrophobic environment. There was one perfect way to prepare humans for these conditions: going underwater. The world was gripped. If we could land people on the moon, why not colonise the ocean as well?

Nasa scientists were not the first to dream of marine living. Evidence of submarines and diving bells can be found as far back as the 16th century. The literary grandfather of all things deep, Jules Verne, popularised the idea of a more sophisticated underwater life with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1872, but it was in the 20th century that the fascination really took hold.

In the 1930s, American naturalist William Beebe and engineer Otis Barton collaborated on experimental submersibles called bathyspheres which set records for deep diving and opened up the underwater realm of plants and animals to science. Swiss physicist and oceanographer Auguste Piccard created the bathyscaphe (which used floats rather than surface cables) in 1946, and his son, Jacques, was on the record-breaking voyage to explore the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth, in 1960. Auguste also created the mesoscaphe – the world’s first passenger submarine – in 1964.

Jacques Piccard in the mesoscaphe
 Jacques Piccard in the mesoscaphe, the world’s first passenger submarine, which his father, Auguste Piccard, created in 1964. Photograph: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Dr William Beebe with a bathysphere.
 The bathysphere was invented in the 1930s by Dr William Beebe and was used to explore the ocean floor. Photograph: Chris Hunter/Corbis via Getty Images
The craze for living in the depths, rather than merely visiting, started in the 1960s, when Jacques-Yves Cousteau – inventor of scuba, wearer of red woolly hats and inspiration for ze French Narrator in Spongebob – brought the ocean vividly to life for millions around the world through his documentaries about life aboard his vessel Calypso.To Cousteau, the life subaquatic was, above all, for living. “Being French, he made sure his diving never got in the way of mealtimes,” writes author John Crace of Cousteau’s documentaries. “In fact, food and wine take almost equal precedence with the oceans in these films. No one is ever without a pipe or cigarette in their mouth, either. Except underwater, of course.”Cousteau channelled this vision of oceanic life into his underwater habitats, known as Conshelf (Continental Shelf Station). George F Bond, the father of saturation diving and head of the US navy’s Man-in-the-Sea programme, approached Cousteau with funding from the French oil industry: they wanted manned colonies at sea in order to help with future exploration.

Still from The Undersea World of Jaques Cousteau. The 1960s TV show chronicling Cousteau’s undersea explorations aboard the ex-Royal Navy minesweep, The Calypso
 The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, the 1960s TV show chronicling Cousteau’s undersea explorations aboard the ex-Royal Navy minesweeper Calypso. Photograph: ABC Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images
Jacques Cousteau’s 1964 documentary World Without Sun.
 Jacques Cousteau’s 1964 documentary World Without Sun. Photograph: Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock
Together, Bond and Cousteau built three Conshelfs. The first, in 1962, was suspended 10 metres under the water off the coast of Marseilles, but Conshelf II was a starfish-shaped “underwater village” that sat on the seabed proper, 30 metres down in the Red Sea off Sudan. It contained all the accoutrements of la vie louche, including television and radio. Cousteau used it as a base to explore the ocean in his yellow submarine, descending to 300 metres to capture the deepest footage yet recorded.His team spent 30 days beneath the waves, and in the process changed humanity’s relationship with the ocean by proving that “saturation diving” could allow people to spend long periods underwater. By diving to a certain depth, divers saturate their bodies with the inert gases in air. This allows them to exist at the extreme pressure of the ocean floor. It typically involves breathing a mix of helium and oxygen, to avoid the possibility of the bends and nitrogen narcosis.Conshelf sparked a craze. Sealab, Hydrolab, Edalhab, Helgoland, Galathee, Aquabulle, Hippocampe – more than 60 underwater habitats were dotted across the seabeds in the late 60s and early 70s from the Baltic to the Gulf of Mexico.

American aquanaut Berry L Cannon inside Sealab II
 American aquanaut Berry L Cannon inside Sealab II, developed by the US navy during the 1960s. Photograph: Abbus Archive Images/Alamy
The Cousteaus and their crew
 The Cousteaus and their crew relax after work on Conshelf II, in the Shaab Rumi reef in the Red Sea. Photograph: Robert B Goodman/National Geographic Creative
The craze even inspired two British teenagers, Colin Irwin and John Heath, to raise £1,000 to build Glaucus in 1965, which was little more than a cylindrical steel tank weighed down by old railway ties. “We all thought at the time, ‘This is the future’,” Irwin told the BBC on Glaucus’s 50th anniversary. “We may not populate the moon, but we’re going to have villages all over the continental shelf, and we thought it’s about time the British did the same thing.” They dropped it in the waters of Plymouth Sound and spent a week inside.It is the Nasa missions, however, that remain the most iconic of the 60s underwater living experiments. This is in large part due to the marine biologist Sylvia Earle, one of the most famous explorers of her generation. In 1969, Earle made history with Mission 6, when she and an all-female team of scientists spent two weeks on Nasa’s habitat Tektite (named after meteor remnants on the seabed). This Virgin Islands research facility was for studying aquatic life – marine science, engineering and construction underwater – and small-crew psychology in extreme conditions. The research was for the Apollo missions and the moon landing was just months away.Built by General Electric, Earle and her team would enter Tektite through what she calls an “underwater door” – emerging as if from a swimming pool into the deep-sea two-up, two-down apartment. It was dry, climate-controlled and comfortable, with carpets, bunks and a hot freshwater shower to wash off the salt. It even had a microwave.“Nasa had a team of psychologists watching to get insight into behaviour of living in isolation,” says Earle today. “We were there as guinea pigs: our research was on the oceans, their research was on us.”But Tektite wasn’t just a research station – it was a vision of stylish underwater living. With their scientific gear and Charlie’s Angels wetsuits in their Bond-villain lair, Earle and her team caused a media sensation.

“They called us the aquababes, the aquanaughties, all sorts of things,” Earle recalls with a snort. “We speculated what they would say about the astronauts if they were seen the same way – would they be the astrohunks?”

Habitats such as Glaucus, Conshelf and Tektite were built as tributes to humankind’s abilities, but their true achievement was to spark an entirely different understanding of marine animals. “Back then we could only explore using nets, and just saw dead bodies – not living creatures. Having the continuous interaction allowed us to get to know individual animals,” Earle says. “[In underwater habitats] we could stay, the way you look at bears or birds: we were there for the long haul, 24 hours a day or night. It was possible to see how a little group of damselfish reacted when a predator tried to swipe their eggs, for example.

Peggy Lucas with team leader Dr Sylvia Earle
 Engineer Peggy Lucas and team leader Dr Sylvia Earle in Nasa’s Tektite habitat in the Virgin Islands. Photograph: Bettmann Archive
Artist’s cutaway view of the Tektite II habitat.
 Cutaway model of Nasa’s Tektite II habitat. Photograph: NOAA Central Library Historical Fisheries Collection
Dr Sylvia Earle diving.
 Dr Sylvia Earle diving off Magic Point, New South Wales, Australia, with a Port Jackson shark in 2004. Photograph: The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
“You look at a school of fish and they all look alike, but when you really look at them – well, it’s like a bunch of people getting on the New York subway: a fish would say they all look the same, but we know they’re different. Getting to appreciate the individuality of creatures other than humans was a breakthrough for me – it reinforces that you can’t just lump them all together.”But, in 1973, the world was shaken when Opec declared an oil embargo. Energy prices in the west skyrocketed. At first, the oil shock fuelled even wilder fantasies of a watery future, straight out of science fiction. Architects and designers imagined whole cities underwater, fed by hydropower stations, with deep-sea mining using freight submarines.Much like living in space, though, it’s extremely difficult to live underwater. Aquanauts spending months in saturation suffered intense pressures on their body tissues – their brains, nervous systems. There were also interpersonal problems. As the marine biologist Helen Scales notes in her 2014 radio documentary The Life Sub-Aquatic:“If you’ve ever lived in a house with anyone, the first thing you do is storm out if you have a quarrel. You’re not going to do that [underwater].”Advances in robotics changed the game. Much of the research being done by Earle and her colleagues could be more efficiently performed by humans operating devices remotely from the surface. By the end of the 70s, the US government pulled back on its efforts. The moon missions were over. So, it seemed, were the ocean habitats.A few people refused to let the dream die. One was Australian Lloyd Godson. His habitat, BioSub, experimented with sustainability. Fuelled by solar panels, it featured a support system adapted from work by American high school students, with algae removing the CO2 from his exhalations and creating oxygen. In 2007 he moved in. It worked – sort of. “By day 12 I was lethargic, getting really irritated with people asking questions,” he told the BBC. “My wife told me to call it a day.”

In 2010 Godson spent 14 days underwater at the Legoland aquarium in Germany and used a fixed bicycle to set a world record for generating electricity underwater.

The SeaOrbiter designed by French architect Jacques Rougerie
 The SeaOrbiter, designed by French architect Jacques Rougerie. Photograph: Jacques Rougerie
Better funded is the French architect Jacques Rougerie, who has built a career designing underwater habitats and environments. “I had the pleasure of going on Cousteau’s Calypso, participating in expeditions, talking to the crew – and what he created was a fascination for underwater living,” Rougerie says from his office in Paris. “The early explorers opened the chamber of the possible for humanity. When you are underwater you feel like you’re in a new dimension – floating in space, like an astronaut.”Citing Leonardo da Vinci as an inspiration, Rougerie designs sea museums, underwater laboratories and habitats, and his foundation hosts an annual competition for students to conceive of underwater villages. Rougerie himself has twice lived for long periods underwater, and both times he didn’t want to return to land. “Sadness invades you,” he says. “I was happy to come back and see family, but the first thing you think of is the next experience.”Rougerie’s ultimate goal remains that old 1960s dream: a proper underwater village, housing up to 250 people. In his vision, these aquanaut settlers would live in osmosis with the ocean, in a self-sufficient, autonomous community running on renewable marine energy such as tidal power, wave sensors and ocean thermals.Perhaps most ambitious of all is SeaOrbiter, Rougerie’s take on the International Space Station for the ocean. It looks like a floating seahorse: two-thirds of its 51 metres are submerged, with panoramic windows, the lower section acting to stabilise a huge sail-shaped portion above water.“The goal, above all, is to help the climate and biodiversity by exploring across the grand currents of the ocean,” he says. “To float 24/7 on a permanent structure, a combination of men and robots with a scientific purpose.”

Despite Rougerie’s claims that he has secured Chinese investment, SeaOrbiter appears no closer to pushing off.

Indeed, after all the projects of the past 50 years, only one permanent underwater habitat remains on the entire planet: Aquarius Reef Base, a research station run by Florida International University and which sits 20 metres down on the seabed off the Florida Keys.

Fabien Cousteau waves from inside Aquarius Reef Base, a laboratory 63 feet below the surface in the waters off Key Largo, Florida in 2014
 Fabien Cousteau waves from inside Aquarius Reef Base, an ocean-floor laboratory off Key Largo, Florida in 2014. Photograph: Wilfredo Lee/AP
Aquarius plays host to a stream of people – scientists, film-makers, astronauts, even Jacques Cousteau’s grandson Fabien – who want to experience time underwater. As part of Nasa’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (Neemo), the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, famous for singing David Bowie songs aboard the International Space Station in 2013, used Aquarius to train.But Aquarius is still just a small research station, with room for just six people. In the 21st century, underwater “living” has become almost exclusively the preserve of hotels and resorts that sell “experiences” to guests via underwater glass ceilings and fish windows. The world’s largest underwater restaurant opened in Norway in 2019. Submerged hotels in the Maldives, Fiji, Dubai and Singapore use elevators to take guests below the waterline, and feature amenities such as Poseidon’s undersea chapel (“for a wedding ceremony or vow renewal truly unlike any other”), and are a lot more comfortable than Tektite ever was.Instead, the architects and scientists who still look to aquatic habitation spend most of their time thinking not about underwater cities, but floating ones. Long the refuge of the poorest city dwellers, such as the vast Makoko floating slum of homes on stilts in Lagos, houses on water have become newly popular as waterfront property prices – and sea levels – have risen across the world.So far, most of this effort to colonise the water has gone into land reclamation projects, such as the Odaiba island in Tokyo, or South Korea’s Songdo “smart city”. Architects in Dubai even tried to create a scale model of the entire Earth off its coast. However, reclamation is expensive, and requires constant maintenance to keep the ocean from reclaiming the space. Japan’s Kansai airport is sinking.

Under in Lindesnes, Norway, is the world’s largest underwater restaurant
 Under in Lindesnes, Norway, is the world’s largest underwater restaurant. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images
Exterior view of Under
 Exterior view of Under: the restaurant is 5.5 metres beneath the sea. Photograph: Tor Erik Schrøder/AP
Architect Koen Olthuis thinks it’s more natural for cities to spread by floating. His firm Waterstudio builds floating buildings, mainly in the Netherlands, to help cities be more resilient. Recently, Olthuis started adding submerged levels to his structures. “In Holland the licences for dwellings on the water are small, but they say nothing about living underwater.”The goal is partly ecological, Olthuis says. “Ten years ago, it was about proving that a structure did not have a negative effect – but now it’s about also having a positive effect.” He points to the “rigs to reefs” principle where abandoned oil rigs have been transformed into habitats for ocean life. Waterstudio’s Sea Tree builds on that concept: it’s a platform that attracts birds, bees, fish and water plants into a single dense floating structure that can be moved between cities. He says the first Sea Trees have been commissioned by a Chinese developer in Kunming, who was asked to create a tourist attraction after a dam permanently altered the landscape.The Bjarke Ingels Group last year revealed a concept for a buoyant municipality called Oceanix City – a modular system of floating islands clustered in multiples of six to form a kind of archipelago. Meanwhile, the Seasteading Institute, founded by PayPal’s Peter Thiel and the grandson of the economist Milton Friedman, continues to pursue its libertarian goal of floating communities living outside the boundaries of national law. The Chinese construction giant CCCC has a design similar to Oceanix City, while the architect Vincent Callebaut has imagined a city called Lilypad with a series of oceanic skyscrapers that would house 50,000 people.“I see blue cities,” says Olthuis. “Not floating cities. Just a city growing over water, taking advantage of the floating structures but in the same pattern as on land – a kind of Venice but floating, that can be used in New York, Miami … any city that’s threatened by water.”

An artists’ rendering of the Sea Tree project – a structure to attract fish and other wildlife to an area.
 An artist’s rendering of the Sea Tree project by Dutch architects Waterstudio. Photograph: Waterstudio
OceanixCity – a modular system of floating islands clustered to form an archipelago. Concept by Bjarke Ingels Group
 Oceanix City – a proposed modular system of floating islands form an archipelago. Photograph: BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group
Aerial view of Oceanix City
 An aerial view of Oceanix City. Photograph: BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

The craze for deep-sea living wasn’t entirely folly, though. Rougerie says that time beneath the waves changes our outlook on the planet, helping inspire the environmental movement. It’s why continues to sponsor the competition to design underwater cities. “The biggest threat to our ocean is man: pollution, chemical and plastic. But I’m convinced that the young have a conscience and they’ll do everything in their power – they’re totally committed and willing to find a solution.”

Sylvia Earle, too, believes that man’s understanding of the universe has been changed by underwater exploration. “In the last 50 years,” she says, “two major things have happened: the expansion of our technology into the skies above – which has given us great insights into the blue speck in the universe that we couldn’t understand any other way – and going deep in the ocean, which has also changed everything.

“It has taught us that life exists everywhere, even in the greatest depths; that most of life is in the oceans; and that oceans govern climate. Perhaps because we’re so terrestrially biased, air-breathing creatures that we are, it has taken us until now to realise that everything we care about is anchored in the ocean.

“It’s the ocean that drives planetary systems – and we have done more harm to our life-support system in the last 50 years than we have in all previous human history,” she says. “If we fail the ocean, nothing else matters.”

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By Material District

Dutch architectural studio Waterstudio designed a 40 metre tall floating tower made of CLT for the city of Rotterdam (NL).

CLT, which stands for Cross Laminated Timber, is a sustainable up and coming material in architecture. Wood is a renewable resource, and by turning it into CLT, even wood that is less suitable for construction, like softwoods, can be turned into buildings. This way, lighter constructions can be built than with for instance steel or concrete, making it especially suitable for floating architecture.

The design of the tower is compared to a sheet of paper that is pushed together so that a tower appears. The white sheet is floating above the water on a transparent layer with vegetation. It is hold in place by a wooden structure of V-shaped columns. The tower is pushed up asymmetric from the deck, which creates an opening in the middle of the building. This opening functions as an atrium on the lower level, to provide light and a spacious feeling.

The foundation of the building consists of three concrete barges, The tower itself will be constructed in three parts on a wharf and assembled on site.

The main function of the tower is to accommodate offices. However, the ground floor forms a mix-use public layer, just above the water level. It is designed as a public green park.

Located in the harbour of Rotterdam, the FloatingTimberTower uses as little energy as possible. The building runs on solar power and reuses heat produced by the structure itself or extracted from the surrounding water.

Architect: Koen Olthuis – Waterstudio.NL
Concept developer: VORM


Pływająca wieża z drewna

By Sztuka Architektury
ABC Australia


Pracownia Waterstudio stworzyła projekt architektoniczny wysokiego na 40 metrów budynku z drewna. Nie byłoby w tym może nic niezwykłego, gdyby nie fakt, że w zamierzeniu architektów ów budynek ma… pływać po wodzie.


Projekt architektoniczny Floating Timber Tower
Projekt architektoniczny Floating Timber Tower

Nietypowa architektura z drewna

Pływająca wieża z drewna – to budynek biurowy, zaprojektowany dla bardzo konkretnej lokalizacji. Autorzy projektu architektonicznego widzą go pływającego po zatokach i kanałach Rotterdamu. Drewniany budynek powstał we współpracy z gotową sfinansować jego budowę firmą deweloperską oraz z pracownią inżynieryjną  Hercules Floating Concrete, zajmującą się tworzeniem konstrukcji dla pływających obiektów architektonicznych.

Projekt architektoniczny Floating Timber Tower
Projekt architektoniczny Floating Timber Tower
Mimo że w Holandii pływające domy nie są niczym niezwykłym – wszak kraj ów jest wyjątkowo bogato wyposażony w rzeki, kanały i różnego rodzaju akweny – wysoki aż na 40 metrów drewniany budynek, który także miałby zostać zbudowany na wodzie okazał się wyjątkowo oryginalnym pomysłem. Tym bardziej ekscytującym, że w swoim projekcie architektonicznym autorzy uwzględnili nie tylko powierzchnie biurowe, ale i taras widokowy, restaurację oraz nawet zieloną przestrzeń publiczną!

Projekt architektoniczny Floating Timber Tower
Projekt architektoniczny Floating Timber Tower

Zobacz bardzo oryginalny projekt architektoniczny

Autorzy tego projektu architektonicznego, pracownia Waterstudio, pływającą wieżę chcą zbudować z drewna klejonego krzyżowo (cross-laminated timber, CLT). Są przekonani, że to materiał przyszłości – ekologiczny, wytrzymały, elastyczny, uniwersalny i w pełni bezpieczny. Ma także tę zaletę, że jest bardzo lekki – dlatego właśnie doskonale nadaje się także do budowania z niego obiektów pływających.

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Informativ: Gut Wohnen im Klimawandel

By Marie-luise Braun

Elegant wohnen auf dem Wasser: Wie diese Häuser der Siedlung Schoonship in den Niederlanden, werden weltweit schwimmende Siedlungen geplant, um dem steigenden Meeresspiegel zu trotzen. Foto: Raum Film
Elegant wohnen auf dem Wasser: Wie diese Häuser der Siedlung Schoonship in den Niederlanden, werden weltweit schwimmende Siedlungen geplant, um dem steigenden Meeresspiegel zu trotzen. Foto: Raum Film

Osnabrück . Wie Menschen trotz des Klimawandels gut leben und Hochwassern trotzen können, zeigt Matthias Widter in seinem Film “Erde unter Wasser – Wohnen im Klima-Chaos”.

Aktuelle Forschungsberichte zeigen es: Die Erwärmung der Erde durch den Klimawandel geht schneller voran, als gedacht. Wie gut, dass Experten bereits an Möglichkeiten arbeiten, mit den Folgen leben zu können. So ist das beispielsweise in der Architektur, zeigt Matthias Widter in seiner informativen Dokumentation auf. In ihr stellt er nicht nur Projekte weltweit vor, sondern lässt den Klimaforscher Mojib Latif die Folgen des Klimawandels für die Städte veranschaulichen.

Hamburg beispielsweise liegt nur 100 Kilometer von der Küste entfernt. Steigt der Meeresspiegel durch die Erderwärmung an, kann es in der Metropole wesentlich häufiger zu Hochwassern kommen.

Für Koen Olthuis liegt die Lösung auf der Hand: „Wenn das Wasser kommt, lebt es sich am besten auf dem Wasser“, sagt der niederländische Architekten und Industrie-Designer, der unter anderem an einem Pilotprojekt in Amsterdams Norden beteiligt war. Hier schwimmt eine neue Siedlung auf dem Wasser. Auch andernorts werden solche Wohnmöglichkeiten angedacht, die zudem sehr flexibel sind: Dadurch, dass die Häuser schwimmen, können sie nicht nur an anderen Orten anlegen, sondern auch ganze Siedlungen flexibel an sich ändernde gesellschaftliche Bedürfnisse angepasst werden.

Rotterdam ospiterà il primo grattacielo galleggiante al mondo in legno

By Tommaso Tautonico


Floating Cities: The Next Big Real Estate Boom

By Wade Shepard

“I’m a real estate developer and this is a developer’s dream,” spoke Lela Goren, a NYC-based developer and investor during a UN Habitat event as she looked over a scale model of Oceanix City—a floating city concept that could be deployed around the world. In this era where the value of and need for coastal property throughout Asia is so high that dozens of countries are creating hundreds of square kilometers of artificial land for urban development, her words resonated throughout the room. Not only may floating cities be a salve to help to mitigate the impacts of rising sea levels, but also a way for governments and developers to create vast swaths of much-coveted space for highly profitable coastal development by building out into the sea in a more environmentally sustainable way than land reclamation.

“Most cities are located nearby water and this number will also increase in the next decades,” said Kees-Jan Bandt, the CEO of Bandt Management & Consultancy. “This was already the case a hundred years ago: water is life and always has been a center of economic activities.”

For this reason, coastal cities have been drawing people towards them at an ever-increasing rate. Nearly three million people move from the countryside into cities each week, with the bulk of this migration heading to coastal cities, which now contain over half of the world’s population and are, quite literally, bursting at the seams. This is a situation that is expected to only grow more dire, as UN Habitat predicts that by 2035 90% of all mega-cities—metropolises with over 10 million people—will be on the coast.

Over the past decades, coastal cities across Asia have been responding to the need for more land by simply making it themselves. Land reclamation—dumping or corralling sand in aquatic areas to create new land—has grown to bonanza-like proportions, as Asian cities build arrays of high-value housing, luxury shopping malls, entertainment facilities, transportation infrastructure, and even entirely new cities where there was only open water not long ago. From 2006 to 2010, China was tacking on an additional 700 square kilometers of new land each year. Malaysia is engaged in mass reclamation work for the 700,000-person Forest City project as well as a slew of luxury developments in Penang and Melaka. Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo reclaimed enough land to build an entirely new financial district that’s meant to rival Singapore. South Korea built the Songdo “smart city” entirely on land expropriated from a bay. Dubai has turned reclamation into an art. While upwards of 20% of Tokyo and nearly 25% of Singapore is on land that nature didn’t make.

“In some Asian countries it is sometimes easier, quicker, and, on the long-term, cheaper to reclaim land from the sea than develop on existing land because of land ownership,” Bandt explained.

In already crowded coastal cities, large swaths of development land are rare, and the procurement of such often requires costly and complicated evictions and relocations. So land reclamation was often seen as a win-win for developers and municipal planning boards: they could get fresh, barren land in high-value, central locations without needing to deal with the trouble of land owners or tearing down already built-up areas. Also, in most countries, reclamation is a land rights wild card, as there are no existing statutes on the ownership of land created on the sea—it’s a simple matter of makers-keepers. And the profits from land reclamation? According to Ocean University of China professor Liu Hongbin, land reclamation in China could produce a 10- to 100-fold profit.

However, there is another side of land reclamation that isn’t all glittering shopping malls and gleaming gantry cranes. It turns out that land reclamation is environmentally hazardous.

“Once you reclaim, you lose the ecosystem,” Professor Jennie Lee, a marine biologist from Malaysia Terengganu University, stated bluntly. “The coral reef, the mangrove are the shoreline’s protector, so once you reclaim, you destroy the natural protection to the coastline and, over time, you will see the water currents change and physical changes of the coastline itself: some beaches will have more sands piling up and some beaches will be eroded away. When you pile side dunes on an area, you have a lot of runoff, a lot of siltation happens,” she continued. “When you increase the turbidity of an area the phytoplankton reduces because there is not enough light, and then it just goes to the next level: the fishes reduce because there is no more food for them, and after that it will just change the ecosystem itself.”

Besides being environmentally hazardous, land reclamation is contributing to the depletion of a resource that until recently was thought to be inexhaustible: sand. According to many reports, the sand wars have already begun, with many countries throughout Asia banning the export of the resource and organized crime syndicates filling the void by trafficking it like a narcotic. The world is running out of suitable sand for development—our thirst for concrete, of which sand is a necessary component, and artificial land has pushed the resource to the brink.

There is also another unfortunate, often inopportune thing about land reclamation: it is often no match for nature.

“Even in Dubai, with the world’s best engineering and obviously a lot of money, many of their land reclamation projects don’t hold after a decade,” said Marc Collins Chen, the founder of Oceanix, one of the leading companies driving the development of floating cities. “If you look at Japan, the Kansai airport—built with state of the art engineering and a lot of money—it’s sinking, and it’s sinking fast.”

As the years pass, countries throughout Asia have started to understand the pernicious impacts of their land reclamation activities, and many want to see the projects come to an end. China has already banned all but essential land reclamation developments in 2018, and earlier this year, Zhejiang province doubled-down on Beijing’s order.

Meanwhile, the demand for more coastal development land continues to exist, signaling that a new solution is needed.

Could floating cities be the answer?

A substitute for land reclamation is now being proposed, offering the same perks—cheap and easy to make blank slates for development—without as many of the environmental and social drawbacks. They call them floating cities, but the term is an overt misnomer. Floating cities don’t actually float, but are essentially platforms that are anchored to the seabed in coastal areas. The technology is not new—it’s basically the same idea as an oil rig or large dock, only with a city built on top of it. Once the intellectual property of libertarians looking to construct utopias and tax shelters, the idea is now creeping into the consciousness of the commercial real estate sphere worldwide.

“The economic potential is in the hundreds of billions of dollars,” opined Collins Chen. “More and more countries are banning commercial land reclamation while population pressures on coastal cities continue to grow. Floating cities become the only option to expand onto the ocean sustainably.”

There are currently dozens of floating city models that are being tested and proposed around the world by a new class of innovator dubbed the aquapreneurs. In the Netherlands there is a company called WaterStudio, that has already built small-scale floating buildings, including UNESCO-backed schools. Recouping from its failure in French Polynesia, the Seasteading Institute—which was founded by PayPal founder Peter Thiel and Milton Friedman’s grandson—is still adamant about building floating cities to create a space for innovative forms of governance and economics. The Chinese construction giant CCCC is also in the floating city game, commissioning a design for a floating city that looks like “a sprawling buoyant landmass made from prefabricated hexagonal modules.” The French architecture firm XTU developed a floating city concept called X SEA TY. The architect Vincent Callebaut designed a floating city called Lilypad that would house 50,000 people in an array of high-rise towers that look like, yes, lily pads. Then there’s Marc Collins Chen’s Oceanix City—a design that has already received considerable traction.

This visionary group of “aquapreneurs” believes that humanity’s future isn’t found in recoiling from sea level rise or stemming the tides of coastal migration, but in facing the reality in front of us and building out into sea to an extent that would make even the most ambitious land reclamation engineer blush. Rather than engaging in a perpetual fist fight with the ocean, the aquapreneurs are saying that we should build over top of the sea and just let nature do its thing down below.

“Eventually, it’s going to happen. There is no turning back. We are going to eventually have floating cities,” declared Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, a complexity scientist who once worked with the Seasteading Institute.

While there is not yet an example of a living floating city, the model does present the potential of being less environmentally hazardous than land reclamation. Floating cities don’t require large amounts of sand to create, preserving a dwindling resource and negating the damage done to the environment in the locales where the sand is sourced and where it is deposited.

“Floating is a lot better than land reclamation because it protects the marine environment. It can be easily be removed or expanded, whereas land reclamation usually takes a bunch of sand and dumps it over a place, killing everything that lives there,” Mezza-Garcia explained.

Floating cities are also being touted as being cheaper and faster to construct than land reclamation. When developers reclaim land there is generally a multi-year waiting period for the sediment to settle before it is safe to build on. Floating cities have no such requirements: you can start building the day the platform is anchored.

“So let’s say Shenzhen needs 5,000-person low income housing,” Collins Chen proposed. “You could literally tow it in within months instead of waiting ten years [for the reclaimed land to settle]. Reclaimed land is expensive because you got to bring trucks and trucks of sand and dirt and then you have to bring all of the teams to actually build and lay the concrete slab. Whereas, floating cities can be entirely built in a factory, towed out, and assembled. So it really is about the environment, costs, and speed.”

Floating cities are not only for idealistic libertarians anymore, but grounded entrepreneurs looking to be a part of the next big boom in real estate development.

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Rotterdam is getting a new FLOATING wooden tower

By Ailish Lalor
Dutch Review

Rotterdam’s already-iconic cityscape will be getting a new addition in the form of a floating wooden tower. The building is designed by renowned architects Waterstudio, who have produced stunning floating buildings before.

How will the building float?

Now, you might be wondering how a solid building can float on water. The answer is deceptively simple: instead of its bulk being made out of concrete (which is, of course, very heavy) the new tower will be made mostly from wood. To be precise, it will be constructed using Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), a material that Waterstudio has prior experience with.  Not only does this mean that the 130-foot-tall building will be light, it also means that it will be made out of a renewable resource. It will be a beautiful, environmentally-friendly addition to Rotterdam’s skyline.

The interior of the new tower. Image: Architect Koen Olthuis/ Waterstudio.NL

Plants, natural light, and a really cool shape

The wooden tower will mostly function as office space, but some areas of it will be open to the public, including a restaurant and a courtyard, according to Inhabitat. There will be plenty of greenery inside, which makes the plant-lovers among us very happy. A large expanse of glass will cover both sides of the building, allowing lots of natural light inside (which we need, with the everlasting grey of Dutch weather). According to Koen Olthuis, the leader of the firm, the design of the tower resembles a sheet of paper, whose edges have been pushed together to create a hill-shape in the middle.

Ploveća kuća s elektromotorima

Tvrtka Arkup bogatim kupcima diljem svijeta nudi luksuzne ploveće kuće, koje su posebno popularne u Nizozemskoj. Njihov novi model nosi naziv Arkup 1, a uz pomoć dva elektromotora snage 100 kW i potisnika plovi brzinom od 7 čvorova. Sigurnosti radi, opremljena je s hidrauličnim stabilizatorima dužine 6 m, što vlasniku omogućava da je izdigne iznad površine mora tijekom velikih valova.
Svakako treba naglasiti da je otporna na oluje i može izdržati udare vjetra od 250 km/h, tvrdi proizvođač. Ploveću kuću je projektirao nizozemski Waterstudio, a interijer je izradila brazilska tvrtke Artefacto. Duga je 22,9 m, ima površinu od 404 m2, sustav filtracije kišnice, kao i solarne panele od 36 kW koji pune baterije kapaciteta 1000 kWh. Jedina mana Arkupa 1 je visoka cijena od 5,5 milijuna dolara, ali tvrtka najavljuje kako će izgraditi još tri ovakve kuće te ih prodati bogatim šeicima. (Ž. S.)

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