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Architects look to floating cities as sea levels rise

By Edwin Heathcote
Financial Times

Some argue that waterborne homes — and stadiums — could be a response to climate concerns

New York, London, Shanghai, Jakarta, Manila, Houston, Miami, Rio de Janeiro — all these cities and more are threatened by potential rises in sea level from climate change. Without dramatic action, in a century or less some of the world’s most expensive real estate could be under water. So it is unsurprising that architects and engineers are looking seriously at a future of floating cities. As often with water engineering, the Dutch are at the forefront. Living in a country which owes its existence to the struggle to find equilibrium with the sea, they are the pioneers of a small but increasingly important-looking architectural future. A short tram ride from central Amsterdam is IJburg, a well-planned suburb of decent housing and wide roads built on reclaimed land. At its edges the streets dissolve into jetties and houses sit on the water. One of the first large floating suburbs, it is an enticing vision of water living, with houses on concrete rafts and ducks swimming between. These are well-designed and built homes for city workers priced out of the centre of a city affected by gentrification, tourism and Airbnb-style rentals. Some houses are minimally modernist, others quirkily eccentric. Some look like suburban cottages on water, others like streamlined nautical hybrids, ready to sail away. One neighbourhood, Steigereiland, was built by architects Marlies Rohmer, an elegant Bauhaus dream of white walls, flat roofs, steel and glass. Could this be the future? Architect Koen Olthuis (“the Floating Dutchman”) has been at the forefront of floating design. “We love the water in Holland and we need to learn to see it as a tool,” he says. “I’ve seen floating architecture go from freak architecture to a real proposition. A hundred years ago the invention of the elevator allowed us to build vertically; now we need to understand water as an extra dimension for cities.” Mr Olthuis, whose Waterstudio practice has designed and built more than 200 floating buildings and who has plans for everything from entire cities to a football stadium, calls the floating metropolis a “blue city” and sees a four-stage process in its development. “They start in the city,” he says, “on the waterfront, where there is an established real estate market. Then they go into the sea but are still connected to the land via their energy and sewerage et cetera — which is an alternative to expensive land reclamation. The third phase is going into the sea, 1km into the water, but still connected, and the fourth is the self-supporting city in the sea with all its energy generated in the ocean.” What is the point of that? “I don’t know,” he laughs, “but rich people love the idea — an unregulated haven!” “We have 2bn people threatened by floods, these problems are in the cities right now.” Is this really a realistic solution to problems of urban overcrowding and resilience? “The big guys [the ‘starchitects’] are now showing idealistic cities in the ocean.” These are fantasies, he says, “but we have to group together as architects to make realistic proposals”. Mr Olthuis also worked on the Arkup, a “liveable yacht” launched last year in Miami. A luxury house with hydraulic legs which can be lowered to the seabed, it has solar power, desalination and a motor. He is also working on structures for the world’s slums, building a mobile platform in Bangladesh which uses waste plastic bottles for buoyancy. These will house toilets, internet stations, communal kitchens and other facilities. Floating architecture’s recent history has not all been plain sailing. Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi designed the Makoko floating school for a Lagos slum. It looked like the perfect project — worthy, elegant and innovative — but it was destroyed by a storm. The idea of a mobile floating architecture is among the more promising futures. Mr Olthuis has even designed a sports stadium. “A football stadium could be leased by a city,” he says. “Why spend all that money? Rent it, like a car.” Architect Alex de Rijke also raises flexibility. “Cities have master plans but plans change and one of their failures is their inability to adapt,” he says. “A floating city could be endlessly reconfigured.” His practice dRMM’s plans for a “Floatopolis” in London’s Docklands show a city of multistorey structures. It went from research project to possible commission but was not built. “The world’s cities are full of post-industrial waterfronts,” Mr de Rijke says. “We were looking at how you create a community, with schools, shops and most importantly density. “We have overpriced land in London, a restrictive planning system and the paradox of a low-density city.” The floating city idea, says Mr de Rijke, goes in a cycle of fashion, “like the tide coming in and going out”. It is a relatively expensive way to build, with prefabricated concrete rafts and high-specification components. But in big cities or densely populated countries such as the Netherlands or UK, where land is expensive, it can be an economical solution. As the technologies become more mainstream, costs will fall. Of course, city centre waterways are a finite resource — but they may be becoming much less finite soon. The tide is coming in.


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Floating Golf Course for Maldives

Troongolf’s press release for Dutch Docklands’ Floating Golf Course, conceptual design by Waterstudio.

conceptual design Koen Olthuis Waterstudio.NL developer Dutch Docklands


World’s leading golf management company trusted with delivering a state of the art golf product at unique island project Geneva, Switz. – Troon Golf®, the leader in upscale golf course management, development and marketing is delighted to announce its appointment as technical advisors in one of golf’s newest and most exciting projects recently unveiled in the Maldives. Developed by the world-renowned Dutch Docklands company, industry experts in floating technology, the $500 million project is due to be completed in 2015 and will include a world class golf facility that will be interconnected by revolutionary underwater tunnels. “We are thrilled to be involved in such a truly groundbreaking project in the Maldives. Dutch Docklands are a hugely successful and innovative company and we are excited at the prospect on working closely with them on helping them realize the golf aspect of their vision,” commented Bruce Glasco, Managing Director, Troon Golf Europe, Middle East & Africa. The idyllic Maldives development incorporates a set of groundbreaking artificial floating islands that include exciting new and unique opportunities for sustainable development such as watercooling, sweet water collection floating on saltwater and use of floating solar blanket fields. The scarless development, which has zero footprint on the Maldives region will include state-of-the-art golf courses that look set to bring a wealth of new tourism and investment to the country. The floating islands will draw on Troon Golf’s industry leading expertise in delivering a world class product and its experience at some of golf’s most challenging and unique locations. The project is located just five minutes from the airport and the picturesque site will boast luxurious accommodation which will overlook the golf course and reef. With world renowned companies behind the ambitious venture, the end product looks set to boost tourism in the region attracting travelling and golfing aficionados from around the world.
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Troon Golf EMEA is committed to developing Troon Golf’s presence in Europe, Middle East and Africa. This rapidly expanding division now oversees operations at 36 courses in 13 countries including Dubai, England, Portugal, Russia and Spain with further expansion planned across all regions. Headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., Troon Golf is the world’s largest golf management company, overseeing operations at properties located in 31 states and 26 countries. Additionally, 39 Troon Golf facilities enjoy a Top 100 ranking by national or international publications. Troon Golf properties include Castiglion del Bosco, Tuscany, Italy; Turnberry Resort, Ayrshire, Scotland; Classic Club, Palm Desert, Calif; Brookwater Golf Club, Queensland, Australia; Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E; Palmilla Golf Club, Los Cabos, Mexico; and The Grove, London, England.

conceptual design Koen Olthuis Waterstudio.NL developer Dutch Docklands

Floating city apps for Olympic!

Floating city apps for durable Olympic games.

Floating buildings have a considerable number of advantages. They make it possible to bring extremely large and space-intensive events to the city, without having to reserve space for them years in advance. The Olympic Games,for instance, usually provide the city with a positive impulse,at least in theory. They bring economic advantages and provide an opportunity for initiating urban renewal projects. The Olympic Park in Barcelona, for example, restored the relationship with the waterfront. The current city dwellers are still reaping the benefits, almost 20 years on. But there is also one big disadvantage: afterwards,the city is left with overcapacity in sports facilities. For example, people visiting Beijing now can see that the impressive stadium designed by Herzog & De Meuron and the beautiful swimming hall designed by the Australian architect duo PTW have fallen into disuse. If those buildings had been implemented as floating structures, they could have been moved to locations with a real requirement. The same is true of London, where the Olympic Games will take place in 2012. The design bureau EDAW drew up the London 2012 Olympic Park Master Plan. The first designs date from 2003 and have been adapted a few times since then. Economic considerations were of overriding importance for these adjustments. For instance, the Olympic Park was reduced in size because it turned out to be too expensive to clear a valuable piece of land in the middle of the capital city years in advance, and then keep it clear. If the Olympic Delivery Authority had chosen to additionally make use of the water of the Thames, immediately adjacent to the park, then, taking the same useable surface area,not only the amount of space taken up and the level of investment would have been lower, but also the time taken up would have been less: it would not have been necessary to free up the land ten years in advance. Instead, floating stadiums and other facilities could have been moored a mere two years in advance. They could have been built in dry docks, far away from the Centre, so that the city dwellers would have been spared the nuisance caused by such large-scale building projects. And, directly after the Games, they could have been moved to locations with a requirement for such facilities. But it is never too late for good resolutions. In 2016,the Olympic Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Oscar Niemeyer’s city. There is plenty of water there, and because of the city’s situation up against mountain slopes, there are very few building locations available. Rio de Janeiro would be able to make world history as the location for the first floating Olympic Games. A strange idea? Not for people who dare to think outside the box. It is up to the climate change generation now.

source: FLOAT!  author Koen Olthuis &David keuning

Inhabitat interview: Waterstudio’s Koen Olthuis on FLOAT!

Inhabitat: “World-renowned architect Koen Olthuis is the leading designer of floating structures. Recently, he finished a new book, called FLOAT! read on for our exclusive interview!”

Inhabitat interview: Waterstudio’s Koen Olthuis on FLOAT!

Written by Inhabitat, Bridgette Meinhold

World-renowned architect Koen Olthuis is the leading designer of floating structures — he has built a number of floating houses all over the world and has designed for the likes of Dubai and other metropolises. Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio and David Keuning of Mark Magazine have also authored a book, called FLOAT!, which is a compendium of his knowledge on floating architecture. He details historical projects, discusses the practical uses for floating architecture, explores scenarios for a future world with higher sea levels, and rallies behind sustainability as a necessity for future development on the water. In between his busy travel schedule, Koen was able to take some time to answer a few questions about the future of hydrocities and building on the water – read on for our exclusive interview!

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