“Exploring the Future: The Rise of Floating Cities” is a documentary that delves into the emergence of floating cities as a response to rising sea levels caused by climate change. The film highlights the visionary efforts of different experts, including Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio, who is constructing a sustainable floating city in the Maldives, utilizing seawater for cooling purposes. While showcasing the potential of floating cities, the documentary also explores the challenges and complexities involved, such as engineering requirements, socio-economic considerations, and potential impacts on ecosystems. Through captivating visuals and expert analysis, the film provides viewers with a comprehensive understanding of this cutting-edge architectural movement and its potential to reshape urban living in the face of the climate crisis.
Sea levels are rising due to climate change. Many coastal cities are at growing risk of flooding. Architects are trying to react to this development with new ideas, such as floating cities. Architect Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio is constructing a floating city in the Maldives, sustainably cooled with sea water.
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Het woningtekort vraagt om creatieve oplossingen. “Kleine creatieve oplossingen zetten geen zoden aan de dijk, we moeten over de dijk het water op!”
The housing shortage demands creative solutions. “Small creative solutions won’t make a significant impact, we need to go over the dike and onto the water!”
Koen Olthuis has been touting the benefits of floating cities for years – and now people are starting to take notice
A number of high-profile projects have recently brought attention to Koen Olthuis’s approach to living on water. Those include the floating Citadel apartment block in the Netherlands and important large-scale leisure projects such as luxury private islands in Dubai, floating hotels and resorts in the Maldives and a snowflake-shaped hotel off Norway. The potential for floating architecture, Olthuis says, goes far beyond one-off developments: it’s an urban planning tool.
“For the past 15 years, I’ve been designing these floating structures,” says Olthuis, who established his design firm Waterstudio in 2003. “When I started, all the other architects thought I was crazy, but now this approach is starting to be adopted by developers. We’re also talking to governments around the world about how floating developments can upgrade and improve their cities.” The big picture in all this, according to Olthuis, is that extending cities beyond the waterfront and indeed further out to sea reduces the pressure on overpopulated urban areas – where 70 per cent of people will live by 2050 – and offers flexible solutions for problems thrown up by rising sea levels and climate change.
How do floating structures work at a city level?
Governments worldwide are looking at how floating developments can improve their cities. I propose a system of modular floating developments – floating urban components that add a particular function to the existing grid of a city. With this system, any question a city asks can be answered immediately. If a city needs parking, bring in floating parking. If it has green issues, bring in floating parks and Sea Trees [Waterstudio’s offshore green structures]. The system is responsive to the needs of dynamic urban communities.
Is floating architecture the way forward for urban living?
It’s project to product. You’ll be able to order buildings in, and sell or lease buildings you don’t want or need. We’ve only explored a fraction of the possibilities, but in the next 10 to 15 years, more and more architecture will start to explore the possibilities of floating developments and it will grow from something that’s a fringe architecture to something that’s mainstream. The stupid thing is that we live in dynamic communities and yet we build static structures. With rapidly changing social structures and technologies, we need flexible cities. I’m not saying we have to build floating cities, but that every city that is next to the water should have at least 5 per cent of its buildings on the water. That would create flexibility.
It’s not the only way, but it’s something that is inevitable. It’s about rethinking and finding solutions for major problems.
What other advantages are there?
We believe green is good but blue is better. Water provides many tools to make more durable and sustainable cities. You have water cooling for the buildings, you have flexibility, you have buildings that rise and fall with the water level, you don’t have to demolish a building that’s no longer needed because you can repurpose it or even sell it. People, developers and politicians are starting to see that this is something that brings in money and solves problems. It’s a feasible way to build better cities.
What do you mean by flexibility?
I don’t mean that you’ll be able to take your house and move to another city or another neighbourhood. I mean flexibility on a larger scale, where cities and urban planners are able to move a complete neighbourhood half a mile or bring in temporary floating functions – like stadiums – and use them for one or two years before they leave for another city. This large-scale flexibility makes sense. Take the Olympic Games. It’s so strange that every four years we build so many hotels and stadiums and only use them for a few weeks. Imagine if as a city you could just lease these floating functions from a developer. Cities who don’t have as much money as London or Rio or Beijing could also host these types of events because it would cost much less money.
Is it something you can foresee happening in the near future ?
Yes, maybe not with stadiums – because we can put them up easily – but with the hotel business, certainly. Qatar has the World Cup in 2022 and they need 35,000 hotel rooms for that event. But if they built 35,000 hotel rooms, within 10 years they’d be empty. So they’re thinking about using cruise ships. As the harbour facility is not big enough, they’re also thinking about the idea of fl oating harbours, or fl oating cruise terminals – something that can facilitate these cruise ships for a few weeks, and then a: er that you can bring the fl oating harbours to another location.
Can you tell us about Amillarah Private Islands?
Yes. With OQYANA Real Estate Company and developers Dutch Docklands, 33 private islands are being built as part of The World Islands project in Dubai. The islands are being sold by Christie’s International Real Estate, with a starting price of US$10m. It’s a really high-end project. The fl oating islands look like tropical islands covered in trees, but in fact they’re more like superyachts. They’re built in Holland and then moved to the location in Dubai and anchored there. They are self-su5cient with their own electricity and their own water. Within the next 10 years there’ll be more development around them, so we’re making it look like its own archipelago. If you fly over, it looks like a series of green islands. OQYANA has a masterplan around Amillarah that includes shops, hotels and all kinds of leisure architecture. This is just the first step of the development, but the beauty of this floating architecture is that it moves very fast. Once you’ve built the islands you can just tow them in and connect them to the boKom, either with cables or telescopic piles and they’re ready. Compare that to the manmade islands at The World. There’s still very liKle built there. It’s di5cult to get labour there, di5cult to build the right foundations and there’s no electricity or water, so developers don’t know how to build there without losing money.
Have any been sold?
Not yet. We’ll have an island there, like a show home, from December this year (2016). With the history of the property market in Dubai, it’s beKer to have the first islands there so people can have a look and understand what it’s all about, especially at the prices people pay in this type of market. I should add that if I only ever build floating islands for the rich then I’m doing something wrong. The start of this story for me was to create a new tool for cities that are facing urbanisation, overpopulation and climate change – and also for cities that need to brand themselves to aKract inhabitants. As well as being able to answer these big, fast-changing urban problems, these floating structures bring a certain character and appeal to a city – a USP.
Why does your concept appeal to resort or hotel developers?
On water, leisure architecture, including resorts and hotels, has the possibility to change. You can adapt and create functions that are not only moveable but also transformative through time, for instance, through the seasons. With seasonal structures you can open up the buildings in the summer, make buildings more dense or more spread out. You can add functions or take them away. To me, it’s one big playing field and we’re trying to work out what it means for the future of leisure architecture and real estate, not just how these things will look, but the economic eUects too.
What kind of economic benefits might there be?
A project we started working on a few years ago was a floating hotel and conference centre for the Maldives – the Greenstar. As well as answering fast-changing urban problems, floating structures bring a certain character to a city – a USP The star-shaped hotel has five legs, each with 80 rooms inside, but instead of building five legs, we build six. One of these legs will stay in a harbour in India. In five or seven years time, when the hotel needs refurbishing, you bring the sixth leg to the hotel and connect it, sending the others one by one to be renovated. The hotel doesn’t need to shut down, and the work can be carried out where it’s easy and cost-eBective to get the materials and labour to do it.
What other projects are you working on?
We’re working in the Middle East, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Oman, exploring the potential of ecotourism. We’re looking at building satellite resorts for land-sited hotels, that float out at sea where there are coral reefs or mangroves. Floating resorts don’t leave any scars on the environment – they’re scarless developments, which can even have a positive eBect on the environment. For example, we work with marine engineers and environmentalists to help build floating structures that aKract underwater life. In places like Dubai, it’s so hot that it’s very
diLcult to create the right environment for fish and marine life, but the shade of these floating islands can provide a starting point for new marine ecosystems. We’re also working with master developer Dutch Docklands and the Maldivean government on the ongoing Five Lagoons Ocean Flower resort and residences. Finally, we’re looking at developing cities that face troubles with the environment, density and infrastructure – and seeing how water can be part of that solution.
What are the challenges?
Progress on Norway’s Krystall Hotel is slow because of laws that prevent building on the shoreline. Regulations and laws can be a hurdle, and may need to be changed to adapt to floating architecture. But, we are slowly moving to a marketplace where these floating developments are accepted. There’s a bright future for this technology.
Waterstudio has been pioneering the concept of floating facilities that can be moored at waterside slum communities anywhere in the world. City Apps are floating developments based on a standard sea-freight container. City Apps can be established in water where there is scarcity of space and can be used to upgrade sanitation, housing and communication installations. The first City App, a floating school, is being built for a slum in Dhaka. “One billion people live in slums worldwide and half of them are close to the water. We can use City Apps to instantly improve the quality of life there,” says Olthuis. Because governments see these as temporary solutions, it’s much easier to get permission to do this than to build a facility on land.
By Katharine Logan
As the ice melts and the seas rise, building on waterfront and flood-prone sites begins to look a lot like foolishness, yet backing away from the water takes more willpower than most cities and towns can muster. Ever since the first settlements took root on flood-fertilized riverbanks, next to the water is where people have always wanted to be.
The floating houses designed by Waterstudio, which make up a neighborhood on Amsterdam’s Lake Ijssel, have “foundations” formed in a single pour to eliminate joints.
Photo © Waterstudio
The Waterstudio’s Villa De Hoef, in the Netherlands, normally sits on dry ground alongside a waterway. But when it floods, the house floats.
Photo © Waterstudio
A developer is currently seeking zoning approval to build 29 Waterstudio-designed private floating islands on an inlet north of Miami Beach.
Image © Waterstudio
Denizen Work’s proposal for a floating and relocatable church for the Diocese of London features a roof composed of a pair of asymmetrical, pleated wings. These are lifted, like the pop-top of a vintage camper, once the vessel is docked.
Image © Denizen Works
Denizen Work’s proposal for a floating and relocatable church for the Diocese of London features a roof composed of a pair of asymmetrical, pleated wings. These are lifted, like the pop-top of a vintage camper, once the vessel is docked.
Image © Denizen Works
Carlo Ratti’s scheme for Currie Park in West Palm Beach, Florida, consists of interconnected piazzette. The park, which will float on Lake Worth Lagoon, incorporates amenities such as a restaurant, an amphitheater, and a circular pool.
Image © Carlo Ratti Associati
Carlo Ratti’s scheme for Currie Park in West Palm Beach, Florida, consists of interconnected piazzette. The park, which will float on Lake Worth Lagoon, incorporates amenities such as a restaurant, an amphitheater, and a circular pool.
Image © Carlo Ratti Associati
So what are the options for staying put and living with water rather than moving away from it? They range from keeping water out— with barriers, stilts, and raised ground planes —to letting water in, with ground floors designed for periodic inundation, to, ultimately, rising above it all, with floating architecture. Yes, really. “Whether it’s New York or London, Bangkok or Dhaka, all these cities are growing, all these cities are next to the water, and all are threatened by the water,” says Koen Olthuis, founding principal of Netherlandsbased Waterstudio. “Floating developments can be part of the solution.”
The technology of floating architecture isn’t new. Each of the projects considered here uses tried-and-true technology adapted from marine applications to achieve its unusual results, whether it’s a floating house, an island, a church, or a plaza.
Houseboats, for example, have been around for centuries, and the floating houses that make up a neighborhood in Ijburg, under development in Amsterdam’s Lake Ijssel, are “really just better houseboats,” says Olthuis, “built to the same standards as a house on land, using the same methods and materials.”
For all their similarities to houses on terra firma, however, the float houses Olthuis has designed for Ijburg differ in a crucial aspect: their buoyant “foundations,” or lower levels. Formed in a single pour to eliminate joints, and emphatically free of cracks, a prefabricated concrete tub—or hull—is designed to displace a volume of water with a weight equivalent to the weight of the house. The hull is submerged the depth of half a story and secured to telescoping piles at diagonally opposite corners, allowing the house to rise and fall with the water but not wander about. (Typically, bedrooms are located on the partially submerged level, and the water reduces heating and cooling loads on the house.) As a refinement, automatic air-water balancing tanks help keep the house level when the residents invite more than a few friends to a party.
A buoyant foundation can also be used to build amphibious architecture on flood-prone land. Amphibious architecture retains a connection to the ground under ordinary circum- stances and floats as high as needed when flooding occurs. As a flood-mitigation strategy, amphibious architecture works with natural cycles, instead of trying to resist them.
Waterstudio’s 1,440-square-foot Villa De Hoef, for example, usually sits in a garden beside a waterway in the small Dutch town of De Hoef. When the waterway floods, which happens every 10 years or so, the house floats; as the flood recedes, the house returns to its original position. With a maximum anticipated flood level for the site of only 4 feet, the project’s engineers deemed it safe to tether the house with cables and surround it with a wooden deck, in preference to telescoping piles. A skirt of nylon net prevents flood debris from becoming lodged beneath the house. “Low-tech, low-maintenance,” says Olthuis. Maintaining the amphibious system requires periodic visual inspection of the cables and deck, and, every five years, a recalculation of the house’s added or moved live load to determine and adjust its center of gravity. This is in case the occupants have accumulated more belongings or rearranged the furniture.
Expanding the applications for floating architecture, Waterstudio is now designing private islands that will float on a patented platform moored to the seabed. With projects under way for Dubai and the Maldives, the firm’s Amillarah project is currently seeking zoning approval for a “villa flotilla,” as the Miami Herald dubbed the proposal, with 29 floating islands on Maule Lake, an inlet north of Miami Beach.
Expected to sell for about $12.5 million each, the floating islands will make only a few hundred very wealthy people happy, notes Olthuis. Ultimately, however, he sees a more egalitarian future for the technology, as a solution for people worldwide who live in slums that are close to open water and vulnerable to flooding. Improving these so-called wet slums is almost impossible, since governments are unwilling to condone illegal settlements by sponsoring upgrades and because lenders are unwilling to invest in something that will be flooded out.
But, building on their experience developing floating islands, Waterstudio has proposed simple schools and critical infrastructure, such as water-treatment plants, that would sit on small floating islands and be connected to the slums. The firm has recently completed a prefabricated floating school that will be shipped to Dhaka and assembled next to a wet slum there. Such facilities typically qualify as temporary solutions, which makes them acceptable to government officials. They can be relocated as needed, retaining their value, which makes them attractive to investors. And they can be leased for limited periods, which makes them accessible to the communities that need them. “It’s a delicate system, where you get investors, regulators, and users all together to improve life in these wet slums,” says Olthuis.
A versatile, affordable, and mobile solution is exactly what the Church of England’s Diocese of London was looking for when it commissioned London-based Denizen Works to design a floating church and community hub to support the diocese’s outreach program along London’s waterways.
With the rocketing cost of land, London’s waterways are the busiest they’ve been since the industrial revolution, with a floating bookshop, cinema, restaurants, and even a puppet theater, as well as a significant residential component. The activity on the water could soon be eclipsed, however, by the activity of new development along the water’s edge. In 2015, the mayor’s London Plan identified key brownfield “Opportunity Areas,” many of which lie along these waterways.
With its floating church, the diocese is responding both to the anticipated growth of new waterfront communities on brownfields and underdeveloped lands, and to the difficulty of finding space in the rapidly redeveloping city for a new church. “We spotted this opportunity,” says Hayley Harding, program management officer with the diocese, “and felt that it was something that could grow and support development and change.”
The priority for the diocese is to establish a presence in emerging communities—on and beside the water—as early as possible, and in a space that the local parish can own and manage, running both secular and worship activities as it sees fit. The floating church will moor at key regeneration sites for threeto five-year periods, offering services, and developing relationships with growing communities. Ultimately the Diocese will evaluate whether and how to build a permanent facility.
The competition brief for the project called for a multifunctional space that could accommodate a diverse program of worship and celebrations, art exhibitions, yoga classes, parent-and-toddler groups, and supper clubs. “They’re not just looking to bring the church to these emerging communities,” says Murray Kerr, director at Denizen Works, “but a sense of community as well.”
Denizen’s winning scheme, developed in collaboration with Turks Shipyard and based on a traditional wide beam canal boat, provides 500 square feet of interior space, plus decks, in a vessel that is 60 feet long and 12 feet wide but less than 6 feet above the waterline, so that it can easily clear the London canal system’s low bridges. The design, which is projected to cost about $370,000, includes an innovative roof that generates a play of light and volume. Once the vessel is docked, the roof’s two asymmetrical segments can be raised to reveal pleated sides much like the bellows of a church organ (or, more prosaically, the pop-top of a vintage camper). The longer wing shelters the hall, while the shorter one covers the ancillary spaces, including a kitchen and an office. Crafted from resinimpregnated sailcloth, the translucent bellows will provide a soft, ambient light during the day and act as a Chinese lantern at night, says Kerr, “creating a warm, inviting glow for passersby and imbuing the interiors with a celestial quality.”
“They delivered something we weren’t expecting,” says Harding. “This beautiful volume is something that can be a sacred space as well as a community asset. And Denizen’s partnership with a shipyard demonstrates that it is viable.”
The church will be Denizen’s first project to float. By contrast, the work of Turin, Italy– based Carlo Ratti Associati demonstrates an abiding fascination with water, so it’s no surprise that the firm’s 2016 master plan for the Currie Park waterfront at West Palm Beach, Florida, incorporates a significant water-based element. What is unexpected is the use of a technology adapted from submarines to carve volumes of habitable space into the surface of the Lake Worth Lagoon.
“One of the aims of our work is to imagine an architecture that adapts to human need, rather than the other way around—a living, tailored space that is molded to its inhabitants’ needs, characters, and desires,” says Carlo Ratti, the firm’s founding partner and the director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Water is a reconfigurable material, and it allows us to develop adaptive, ‘fluid’ designs.”
The plan envisions a floating plaza (or, perhaps more accurately, a series of floating piazzette) projecting out onto the lagoon. The plaza will hang in the water, with its surface about 5 feet below sea level, providing views across the water from this unusual perspective. The project is anticipated to have virtually no environmental impact, floating in the lagoon just like a midsize boat, using no fuel, and discharging nothing into the water.
As part of the 50-acre master plan, the plaza will connect to West Palm Beach’s city center along a pair of leafy promenades, and will incorporate such facilities as an organic restaurant with its own hydroponic cultivations, a circular pool, and an amphitheater.
Now in design development while seeking municipal approvals, the plaza will consist of a series of lightweight steel modules composing a peninsula of about 5,000 square feet. The structure’s deck will be made of galvanized steel (similar to boat construction), with teak finishes. Beneath the plaza, a series of sensoractivated air-water chambers will open and close, releasing or taking in water according to the number of people walking on the surface, and adjusting for a height differential of up to 20 inches, which accommodates loading changes of up to 100 pounds per square foot. “The use of responsive digital technologies is often employed to introduce movement and complexity to static architecture,” says Ratti, “but it can equally be used to achieve stasis and equilibrium within a moving landscape.”
With this project, West Palm Beach aims to reclaim its connection to the natural environment it is part of, give shape to a vibrant new district, and, says Ratti, “radically redefine the relationship between architecture and water.” Ratti has identified the theme that unites these disparate examples of floating architecture: a floating plaza that engages with water in a playful new way; a floating church that enables an ancient institution to reach out to its changing city; floating islands that uplift the few and the many; amphibious architecture that celebrates a river even in flood; and a floating neighborhood that provides a city with new “ground.” All of these offer new possibilities for changing waterfronts and new possibilities for us to stay where we really want to be—by the water.
By Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer
volume 15 issue 1
Photo Credits: Waterstudio
IT MAY SOUND CRAZY TODAY, BUT DESIGNERS AND ENGINEERS AROUND THE WORLD ARE ALREADY EMBRACING LIFE ON THE WATER
For more than 14 years, Dutch architect Koen Olthuis has been designing buildings that float. His portfolio includes the construction of 200 floating homes and offices in the Netherlands.
Later this year, luxurious floating islands designed by his Rijswijkbased architecture firm, Waterstudio, will be shipped from the Netherlands to Dubai and the Maldives. Olthuis is also experimenting with floating computer classrooms and other facilities called City Apps that he hopes will soon be transported to floodprone Bangladesh. And he’s in contact with a New Jersey developer who wants to transform the Lincoln Harbor Yacht Marina into a floating residential community with views of the Manhattan skyline.
Olthuis has other ambitious ideas, too. On his architecture firm’s website, www.Waterstudio.nl, you’ll find plans for floating apartment buildings, floating restaurants, floating hotels, floating cruise ship terminals, floating places of worship, floating beaches, floating golf courses, floating “sea trees” for animals, floating facilities (City Apps) for flooded slums, and floating islands for he very wealthy.
“When we started in 2003, we were the only office that was 100 percent into floating structures,” says Olthuis. “Everybody said we were crazy. But we saw the market, and today there are many, many architects working on floating structures in Holland and in Europe. It has become more mainstream.”
Olthuis also wants to bring his designs to Miami’s urban areas and show that water, especially in the form of rising sea levels, doesn’t have to be an obstacle to future development. It can be an asset.
“The reason I’m an architect is that our cities are not perfect. They don’t function as well as they should,” says Olthuis, who floats his structures on concrete box foundations filled with Styrofoam. “I think that water is the next ingredient to improve the performance of cities.”
Rising seas pose a major threat to Greater Miami. Within the next 80 years, climate change may result in ocean levels that are up to seven feet higher than today, washing out huge sections of flat Florida. But Olthuis feels his floating structures can literally rise to the challenges that tides could bring in the coming decades. And for the present, he argues, floating neighborhoods can provide greater flexibility for urban planners, especially in places like Miami and Manhattan, where vacant land is scarce and expensive.
So far, Miami has not taken well to his plans. His idea to create a floating Major League Soccer stadium for David Beckham in downtown Miami didn’t sail. And his proposal to build a floating parking facility for the American Airlines Arena ran aground.
And then there is Maule Lake, a privately owned body of water in North Miami Beach bordering the upscale neighborhood of Eastern Shores. Business associates of Olthuis, through the Dutch Docklands Company, were contracted to buy the lake. It’s here that Olthuis planned to anchor 29 artificial islands each about 7000 square feet, with a fourbedroom house, vegetation, swimming pool, and a couple of boat docks and sell them for $12.5 million apiece. A 30th island, called an “amenity island,” was to feature a clubhouse. The floating community would be called Amillarah. (The project is named after another Dutch Docklands venture, Amillarah, in the Maldives. The word amillarah means private island in Maldivian, according to Dutch Docklands.)
Many Eastern Shores homeowners were horrified at the thought of 30 private islands being built in what they considered their backyard. Among their fears: that the islands would become projectiles during powerful hurricanes, that they would ruin the aesthetics of the neighborhood, and that they would attract throngs of gawkers.
“We don’t want it. We’re going to fight against it. And we’re not going to let it happen,” said Chuck Asarnow, president of the Eastern Shores Homeowners Association, in an interview with the BT in May 2015. In response to the outcry, the North Miami Beach City Council (four members of which, including Mayor George Vallejo, lived in Eastern Shores) declared Maule Lake to be a “conservation area” in July 2015, thus prohibiting development.
But Amillarah in North Miami Beach may not be dead in the water. This past October, Scott Weires, an attorney representing Raymond Gaylord Williams, the owner of Maule Lake, sent North Miami Beach officials a letter announcing his client’s intention to sue under Florida’s Bert J. Harris, Jr. Property Rights Protection Act for $37 million in damages if the city doesn’t rezone the lake. Maule Lake, incidentally, was a rock quarry used by the Maule Rock Mining Company, run by E.L. Maule, in the early 20th century. Williams is a descendant of Maule.
Under the Harris Property Rights Protection Act, a private property owner can seek relief when a governmental body imposes restrictions on the use of that property.
In a February 2, 2017, memo to NMB officials, city attorney José Smith stated that the Williams claim “lacks both merit and validity,” and that the law firm of Weiss Sorota Helfman had been retained to represent the city. Eastern Shores residents remain defiant, insisting that there were never any rights to build on the lake because it was never zoned for development.
“That took them awhile. I thought it was over,” says Fortuna Smukler, chair of the Eastern Shores Crimewatch committee, regarding Williams’s filing of a Harris action 18 months after the city designated the lake a conservation area. “I have confidence in our city attorney. He originally said that Williams won’t have a claim, and I believe him.”
Adds David Templer, an attorney and board member of the Eastern Shores Homeowners Association: “It’s pretty interesting that we use up all the waterfront land [for development] and, hey, now we can use up the water, too.” Weires contends that Williams has the right to develop the lake he has inherited, or to sell it with the development rights attached.
“Our investigation has revealed that these privately owned lands are not environmentally restricted and were never properly zoned by the city,” Weires tells the BT. “As a result, we contend that our client has a constitutional right to develop the entire parcel any way he wishes.
“That said,” Weires continues, “our client has always been, and continues to be, open to discussing possible resolutions with the city that would allow for the reasonable development of some portion of the 117 acres, while maintaining a large amount of the open water.”
And Olthuis? He’s still interested in building floating homes for Maule Lake. It will be a chance to showcase his buoyant residences, designed to withstand the strongest hurricanes, as an environmentally friendly method of developing submerged real estate.
“Miami can test these kinds of floating structures in order to use them on a bigger scale in the near future,” he says.
Olthuis isn’t the only person seeking to build innovative structures directly on the water. There are a number of bold designs floating around.
Among those proposing plans is the Californiabased Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit organization that received significant early funding from libertarian by Libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel “to provide a machinery of freedom to choose new societies on the blue frontier.” This past January, the Seasteading Institute signed a memorandum of understanding with the French Polynesian government that aims to build the first phase of a selfsustaining, floating village within the territorial waters, which would also have its own Special Economic Zone and “unique governing framework.”
The village, estimated to cost between $10 million and $50 million, is being designed by Blue 21, a Dutch engineering firm that also specializes in building floating structures. It will be constructed by Blue Frontiers, a forprofit company spun off from the Seasteading Institute. Not to be confused with the nonprofit marine conservation group Blue Frontier Campaign, the Seasteaders’ Blue Frontiers aims “to develop and construct floating islands and to operate the seazone.” The institute envisions thousands of seasteads “across French Polynesia, the Pacific, and the world” that would “test new ideas for government.”
Doug Pope, a Jacksonvillebased shipwreck treasure hunter, also wants to jumpstart plans to create his project, Oceana Water Resort, a 50unit hotel sitting on an elevated platform and rising six stories above the Gulf of Mexico, 16 miles northwest of Key West. It would be situated in water 5560 feet deep, he told the Miami Herald in February, and sit on pilings that could be raised and lowered as needed. Oceana, Pope declares, will be designed to withstand winds up to 200 miles per hour and will be powered by generators in concert with wind and solar power.
And in Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County, Fane Lozman, a former outspoken North Bay Village activist, wants to build stateoftheart stilt homes capable of responding to the tides, on 25 acres of prime submerged real estate that’s just a few miles from President Donald Trump’s MaraLago.
Steve Israel, a real estate investor and developer, says Mother Nature inspired his desire to turn Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club in Weehawken, New Jersey, a marina he has owned for 25 years, into a floatinghome community.
“Hurricane Sandy flooded everything around us, including things that were anchored on the ground,” Israel recounts. “But all my boats floated up. We have high pilings and no damage.”
Olthuis has already designed a “doublestory floodresistant yacht” without motors that can serve as floating homes for Lincoln Harbor. But because New Jersey bans stationary houseboats, Israel is also seeking someone who can build luxury “livable yachts” with engines and limited mobility at least until the houseboat law is overturned.
“This is what I am mostly excited about,” Israel says, touting the marina’s views of Manhattan and
proximity to a New JerseyNew York ferry. Israel sees this as an opportunity to destroy a nationwide stigma against houseboats, and a means to prepare for a wetter future. “Both cities [New York and Miami] are likely to be flooded in the near future,” he says. “Why assume that the places we live have to be anchored to the ground?”
If his Lincoln Harbor venture works out, Israel may try something similar for the marina he’s redeveloping in Fort Myers near the site of a future 18story condo he may codevelop or sell to another investor. (The proposed condo has parking on the first three floors, Israel says, partly as a precaution against future flooding events.) Israel would also love to set up a floating community in Miami: “I do believe Miami is very ripe for the same kind of deal.”
Building directly on the water isn’t a new thing. There’s Olthuis anticipated a parking crunch with this structure floating next to American Airlines Arena.
evidence that people have lived in stilthouses on the shores of lakes and seas since prehistoric times. And there have been floating villages in Asia for centuries.
In Florida, the waterways of Miami and Miami Beach were once filled with houseboats, says Paul George, a historian affiliated with the HistoryMiami Museum, and a “It kind of evolved,” George says, noting that the first houseboats on the Miami River, in the 1920s, were anchored near Grove Park in today’s Little Havana. “My sense is that some of these people were Northerners,” he says. “They were staying on houseboats, staying during the season, which is wintertime in Miami.” By the 1930s and 1940s, there were hundreds of houseboats on local waterways.
By the 1950s and 1960s, houseboats were also tied to docks in Miami Beach and North Bay Village, inspiring a television show in the early 1960s called Surfside 6, about a detective agency based on a houseboat moored across the street from Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel.
Just off of Key Biscayne, in the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay, another aquatic community sprouted, called Stiltsville. Its origins can be traced to 1933, when Crawfish Eddie Walker turned a wrecked ship into a spot where he could sell chowder and bait to recreational fisherman. “He was a great storyteller,” George says.
Within a few years, Walker had neighbors. Various clubs, restaurants, lodges, and weekend homes were established, either on grounded ships or in stilt houses that rose ten feet or more above sea level.
At its height there were 27 houses and converted shipwrecks in Stiltsville. But the community’s structures were gradually weeded out by hurricanes. Prior to Hurricane Betsy in 1965, there were 24 businesses operating on old ships and stilthouses, notes George. After Betsy there were just 17.
Permits for new structures stopped after Biscayne National Park took over Stiltsville in 1980. The businesses and residences that remained were allowed to operate another two decades. Then along came Hurricane Andrew, which whittled the houses down to seven. After a campaign was launched to save the structures, the remaining seven houses are now shuttered, preserved relics that are maintained by their former owners, now referred to as “caretakers.”
Hurricanes slashed the number of houseboats in Miami and Miami Beach, too. That and a growing stigma toward houseboats. Some of the vessels on the Miami River became unsightly hunks of junk. George says the houseboat dwellers were often referred to as “river rats.” By the 1980s and 1990s, the City of Miami was outlawing them on the Miami River and other waterways. Miami Beach passed similar legislation. And marinas? They started turning away houseboats and other vessels used as fulltime residences.
It’s thanks to Fane Lozman that Dutch Docklands now has some added legal support in its pursuit of the Maule Lake project. Lozman, the creator of Scanshift, a software program that keeps tabs on the stock market, fell in love with the Miami houseboat lifestyle more than a decade ago and fought all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court for his right to continue living on one.
Lozman has a reputation for fighting. In 2003, when his first houseboat was tied up in North Bay Village, he tangled with Al Coletta, a politically influential property owner who allegedly threatened Lozman when he asked if a ramp could be provided for a disabled elderly houseboat owner.
Soon Lozman was fighting Coletta’s allies at North Bay Village City Hall. In November 2003, Commissioner Robert Dugger was arrested for official misconduct based on evidence Lozman collected showing that Dugger failed to disclose his financial connections to Coletta. The Seasteading Institute hopes to build a floating city in French Polynesia, like this concept designed by Blue21.
In April 2004, police Chief David Heller resigned and Mayor Al Dorne and Commissioner Armand Abecassis were arrested for actions related to an obscene threatening cartoon left anonymously in Lozman’s mail.
Lozman might still be in North Bay Village if it hadn’t been for Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. His houseboat survived, but 41 of the neighboring houseboats sank, and the marina where he docked was destroyed. In the aftermath, he discovered that many marinas were reluctant to accept houseboats for fear of turning them into “aquatic trailer parks.”
The only place that would accept Lozman’s houseboat was a marina owned by the City of Riviera Beach, 75 miles up the coast from North Bay Village. Within two months of relocating, Lozman learned that the city planned to condemn the marina as part of a controversial $2.3 billion waterfront redevelopment plan. Lozman sued to stop the project. Riviera Beach officials responded by claiming that Lozman hadn’t paid his dock fees, an accusation he denied. In 2009, after a circuit court judge ruled that his motorless houseboat was a “vessel,”
Riviera Beach officials seized his houseboat under admiralty law, towed it away, and destroyed it. Lozman, in turn, appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2013, the court ruled that Lozman’s houseboat was, indeed, a home and not a vessel.
Although Lozman says he’s still litigating to be compensated for his home’s destruction, it was his case that has helped Koen Olthuis’s Dutch Docklands associates argue that the proposed floating islands in Maule Lake will be, in fact, floating properties. Lozman bought another houseboat, a circa1967 twostory home that was once featured in a Frank Sinatra crime drama called Lady in Cement. Unable to find another marina, he kept it anchored in Biscayne Bay near in the 79th Street Causeway.
Then in 2014, he was contacted by the owners of 200 acres of submerged property on the Intracoastal Waterway, along A1A in Singer Island, a narrow strip of land that is now the most affluent part of Riviera Beach.
“They were wealthy people whose family was paying taxes on it for the past 94 years,” Lozman says. The family was so enamored of his “David versus Goliath Doug Pope’s vision of his Oceana Water Resort, a 50unit hotel 16 miles northwest of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. story,” as Lozman puts it, that they offered to sell him 25 acres of their submerged land for $250,000. The deal closed later that year.
By the summer of 2016, Lozman had triumphantly towed his second floating home, the Sinatra houseboat, adorned with a banner proclaiming his Supreme Court victory, and anchored it at one of his submerged land parcels. Lozman also announced his intention to build a community of floating homes on his 25 acres.
His waterfront condo neighbors, who lived along A1A, were less than thrilled. Last July, Singer Island residents, fearful of losing their views and property values, petitioned the Riviera Beach City Commission to not grant Lozman street addresses.
Lozman says his neighbors’ expressions of dismay weren’t limited to petitions or pleas to local media. A couple of men in a boat tried to hit him with a drone, Lozman recounts, and someone broke into his houseboat and left garbage bags filled with feces.
“One woman came over and tried to buy my property,” Lozman remembers. When he said no, “she started cursing at me. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.” (Emails to the Singer Island Homeowners Association, as well as calls to the association’s president, went unanswered by deadline.)
This past August, Lozman’s Sinatra houseboat sank. The cause isn’t known, but Lozman says the fact that a door to the second floor of his houseboat was open, and that several hatches were missing, indicate an intruder may have sunk it. Witnesses also saw people with flashlights near his property prior to the sinking, he adds.
In spite of his best efforts, the home couldn’t be salvaged. The matter is under investigation and Lozman now lives with his girlfriend at an undisclosed location.
Despite the setback, in November Lozman won yet another case, this one forcing the City of Riviera Beach to give him street addresses for his properties, enabling him to obtain permits from the city, state, and Army Corps of Engineers.
Lozman has since changed his mind about creating a community of floating homes in Riviera Beach. Instead he wants to create Tidal House at Renegade, a development of 40 or 50 twostory stilt homes that use a pinion gear system to move with the tides, plus aerodynamic roofs that can withstand high winds.
Terry and Terry Architects, a San Francisco firm run by brothers Alex and Ivan Terry, came up with the design that, Alex Terry tells the BT, was unveiled at an architecture exhibit in Venice, Italy, last summer and is based on exploratory oil rigs.
“They’re kind of a response to changing climate and a lot of issues with tidal action…and places where there is severe storm action,” Alex Terry says, adding that the Tidal House design has also garnered interest in India.
“The stilt home is a superior solution,” says Lozman, who has hired contractor Donna Milo, a former Upper Eastside resident (and onetime Miami City Commission candidate) to build the homes. Lozman hopes to start construction by 2018, adding that he’s already had offers to buy Tidal House residences for $3 million each.
“In Palm Beach County, three million is not a lot of money,” he notes, pointing out that the condos on Singer Island sell for as much as $10 million.
Wayne Pathman is an environmental and landuse attorney. He has served on special committees on sea level rise for the City of Miami and MiamiDade County, and is chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Pathman advocates for extensive changes in urban codes and infrastructure improvements to address the threat of rising seas. He supports actions spearheaded by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine namely, adding pumps and elevating streets to handle flooding.
Pathman has advocated against creating new historic districts in the city’s North Beach neighborhood, arguing that doing so would limit options for property owners in the future, as tidal events become more pronounced. Pathman often reminds people that the insurance industry is already looking at the future impacts of sea level rise in Florida.
But placing floating homes and stilt houses on South Florida’s waterways? “I don’t think people here in South Florida are really ready for floating homes like other parts of the world,” he says. “It has to be explored when sea level rise becomes more of an impact.”
Miami Beach, in particular, has been pretty tough on even common boats anchoring on the city’s waterways, this in response to waterfront homeowners who complain that liveaboards (full time boat residents) invade their privacy. Although a proposed law making it illegal to live aboard a boat fulltime was rejected in 2002, the city has recently passed laws forbidding vessels from anchoring in public waters without permission, except for specified areas near the Venetian Causeway.
Dutch architect Olthuis emphasizes that Maule Lake has been privately owned for decades, and he is sure the Amillarah project would be beneficial to the surrounding neighborhoods and the city itself. He points out that the Supreme Court ruling in Lozman’s case clarifies that floating homes without motors are actually homesteads that can be taxed as property. In other words, floating homes can provide cities with revenues.
Olthuis argues that places like South Florida need to start thinking seriously about how climate change will affect living choices.
“You can see that cities like Miami and New York and Guangzhou are the top cities being threatened by sea level rise, in terms of assets,” he says. “Miami has to come up with different kinds of solutions. You have to come up with new technology, and you have to change the DNA of cities. You have to slowly start implementing these kinds of developments that have growing resiliency.”
He’s hopeful that building codes in Florida will soon force developers to build in preparation for a changing environment, much like in his native Netherlands. “In 10 or 15 years, builders will, for the most part, have made the switch to resilient typologies like floating houses or stilt houses in Miami,” he predicts.
Other aspiring builders, like Doug Pope in Jacksonville, think the new administration in Washington will be their ally in removing regulations. A single regulation dealing with Oceana’s water treatment stood in the project’s way when it was proposed in 2010, Pope asserts. Then the project fell into limbo when Oceana’s financial backers suddenly balked. Now he is somewhat confident he can find new investors to raise the $26 million needed to build Oceana.
“Things are looking better,” he says. “I wouldn’t say ‘good.’ I would say better.” But why submit yourself to outside governmental regulations at all? Joe Quirk, a science author affiliated with Peter Thiel’s Seasteading Institute, says technology can innovate more quickly if entrepreneurs don’t have to report to government. That’s why the Seasteading Institute wants to create floatingisland “startup societies” with their own autonomy.
If the French Polynesia pilot project succeeds, notes Randolph Hencken, the institute’s executive director, he can envision “future seasteads in places like Miami and Bangladesh.” Says Quirk: “In order for us to bring this technology to Florida or Miami, the governments of Florida and Miami would have to legislate us some measure of legislative or regulatory autonomy.”
Absent new discoveries that could clean the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, the oceans will continue to warm and rise increasingly faster as ice from Greenland and Antarctica slips beneath the waves, predicts Harold Wanless, chairman of the University of Miami’s Department of Geology and an outspoken climatologist.
Because humans have been burning fossil fuels for more than a century, Wanless points out, the planet has about as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today as it did 3 million years ago, a time when there were no polar ice caps and the oceans were 80 feet higher. “This isn’t a cloud of smoke that will just evaporate,” Wanless quips.
The UM professor adds that we won’t have to wait until 2100 to see the full effects of sea level rise. In less than 30 years, he says, tidal flooding will be significantly worse for lowlying areas like Broward, Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, west MiamiDade, south Brickell, and Miami’s Edgewater and Upper Eastside neighborhoods, along with other areas up and down the Biscayne Corridor. (For more on sea level rise projections, see “Six Feet Under,” June 2015.) According to Wanless, Miami Beach’s expensive efforts to mitigate rising seas will only last a couple of decades.
Wanless says the innovations proposed by Olthuis, the Terry brothers, and the Seasteaders are “nice” and “creative,” but he questions if anyone is going to want to live in a flooded area that will be significantly hotter, ravaged by more powerful storms, and difficult to traverse.
A better idea, Wanless suggests, would be preparing places like Omaha, Nebraska, to accommodate the millions of people who will be displaced from coastal communities in the United States.
Olthuis, however, is undeterred. He’s confident his floatingstructure designs can help South Florida adapt to the changes that most scientists agree are certain to come. And in addition to Maule Lake, he has leads on other sites.
“You can imagine that other people with new opportunities have contacted us,” he says. “Developers who are asking if we can do the same for their water.” Olthuis wouldn’t identify those developers or where future floating projects might be located.
“They’re not ready,” he explains. “They must get hold of all their licenses and all their agreements before they start bringing their projects into the open.”
Issue no 36
SCI-FI MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION FROM PLANES TO TRAINS, EVERYTHING ABOUT HOW WE MOVE 150 FROM POINT A TO POINT B IS ABOUT TO CHANGE, AND THESE STILL-IN-DEVELOPMENT
INNOVATIONS WILL PUT US A FEW STEPS CLOSER TO TELEPORTATION.
As much excited we are by the innovations on new ships like Quantum of theSeas, it’s hard not to wonder how dramatically different cruise ships will look in the future. On the other hand, magnetic levitation technology will be available, powering trains, and cutting travel time into half. Hyperloop would send passengers between cities at speeds of more than 970km/h in capsules that float in partial vacuum tubes. And Mars gets closer as corporate leaders, like Elon Musk of SpaceX and Richard Branson of Virgin, have even proposed accelerated timelines for landing people.
OCEANIC EXPLORER THE SEA ORBITER STILL ON PROGRESS
French architect Jacques Rougerie has designed a starship Enterprise for the water, and not merely for its futuristic shape. SeaOrbiter is envisioned as a hightech moving laboratory, carrying crew of up to 22 scientists on long treks through an environment not inherently friendly to human life. Initial funding has been provided by the French government, several companies,
and a crowd-funding campaign.
SUSTAINABLE AQUATIC STRUCTURE CRUISE TERMINALON PROGRESS
Floating Ship Terminal’s design is simple the three sea-level sides allow for easy approach and mooring by giant cruise ships, while the lifted corner acts as an access-way for smaller vessels. With 5 million square feet of shopping, dining, and entertainment, this hybrid could be a private island of the cruise industry.
ICE DREAM KRYSTALL HOTEL NORWAY
Developed by Dutch Docklands, a company that specialises in the construction of floating structures, it is located on an ice crystal between the most beautiful fjords.Τhe property will be built with a concrete base and tethered with cables to the adjacent fjords. However, guests should be unaware of the small changes in position. The five-star offering will boast a spa and is designed to be completely selfsupporting and self-sustainable.
By Architecture & Detail
From the very first moment of seeing the location for this villa, Koen Olthuis, the architect set out to design a villa that would complement and enhance the experience of its surroundings.
Photo Credits Waterstudio