Floating cities. Recent developments and promising concepts.
With the advancement of technologies, we are gaining an ability to settle the places that were previously thought to be uninhabitable. And that means not only setting up an outpost in Arctic or Antarctic but creating a permanent settlement reaching a scale of a comfortable, self-sufficient city. One such area would be the oceans and seas. Where floating cities and even underwater cities could be established. There are already cities that are built on the water by creating artificial islands. Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah or palm islands is probably one of the biggest examples of such. However, it is possible to go beyond that. This was already demonstrated in April 2010 on the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-habitat). "Oceanix" city is one of such projects and can potentially house up to 10000 people on 75 hectares. Being able to grow from just the size of 2 hectares and 300 residents. Making it both scalable and usable in any location. This is just one of the multiple projects that have tremendous potential and that will be discussed below.
Let us discuss this "Oceanix" floating city first. It is filled with ‘blue technologies’ that are environmentally-friendly, non-destructive and can meet humanity’s shelter, energy, water, and food needs without harming the marine ecosystem. It is designed to grow, transform and adapt organically over time, evolving from neighborhoods to villages and even to cities. The city will be comprised of the modular neighborhoods, each by 2 hectares and with 300 residents with mixed-use space for living, working and gathering during the day and night time. All of the structures will be below 7 stories for the sake of low center of gravity and resisting the wind. Each building fanning out to self-shade internal space and the public realm, providing comfort and lower cooling costs. All while maximizing roof area for solar capture. With communal farming being at the heart of every platform, allowing the residents to enjoy the zero-waste systems.
Social, recreational and commercial functions are placed around the sheltered inner ring to encourage the denizens to gather and move around the village. With residents being able to easily walk or boat through the city. Six villages can then connect to form a city of 10000 residents. The interesting feature of such settlements would be the ability to utilize the locally sourced materials for building construction, including fast-growing bamboo that is six times the tensile strength of steel. And of course, they can be constructed onshore and then towed into the ocean to minimize the construction costs. All of it greatly contributing to reduce the price of such buildings and increase their affordability to the potential residents. Those settlements will have a large number of farms both indoors and outdoors, along with greenhouses to grow large amounts of food, along with fish farms. This should provide a considerable amount of nutrition required for the settlers. All of it coupled with a multitude of docking stations, making ships an extremely common mode of transportation along with the conventional public transport.
However, there is a larger project that has a humongous potential and tremendous practical application. It is an ocean spiral – a deep-sea futuristic city, designed by Shimizu corporation to be used off the coast in Japan. It is most fascinating due to its laired structure that goes deep underwater and fulfills a variety of functions. At its top, there is a blue garden – a humongous globe, 500 meters in diameter that serves as a greenhouse with a large amount of natural sunlight due to being completely covered in glass. The orb shape allows it to neutralize the water pressure. This provides a central zone for leisure as well, being a sort of a big aquarium with all the boutiques and restaurants. It is connected to all of the living quarters by a deep-sea gondola with an arrival/departure floor for it. It rests on top of the infra spiral that allows for the transportation of both people and resources. The tower can easily avoid all of the storms and other environmental events on the ocean by having three super ballast balls that will regulate its submerging into the water. Coupled with the floating breakwater unit that will serve as a passenger terminal.
A prominent feature that is extremely interesting for its long-term feasibility is the base of it, which will be dedicated to harvesting resources from the ocean floor. The ‘earth factory’ at its base can be situated as deep as 3000-4000 meters, at a deep-sea zone. It will be able to both store and reuse CO2 (using the industrial emissions) as well as develop and cultivate the deep-sea resources, all the while extracting resources from the deep seafloor that are largely untapped. This has several aspects to it. Electricity through the power generation using thermal energy conversion through temperature differentials. Food through the plant cultivation using the deep seawater. Freshwater distillation using the water pressure.
Another really fascinating project with a unique architectural style and approach is the "Lilypad" floating city. The shape of it is inspired by the highly ribbed leaf of Victoria water lilies. With the double skin of the floating ‘ecopolis’ being made of polyester fibers, covered by a layer of titanium dioxide (TiO2) that would react with the ultraviolet rays and absorb the atmospheric pollution via a photocatalytic effect. Three marinas and three mountains would surround a centrally located underwater artificial lagoon. With the three mountains dedicated to work, shopping and entertainment. All coupled with suspended gardens and aquaculture farms located below the water line that is used to grow food and biomass.
The entire city will be equipped with renewable energy technologies, including solar, thermal, wind, tidal and biomass to produce more energy than it consumes. Those Lilypads can be located close to land or even set on the ocean currents to move from one location to another.
The next city concept worth mentioning is the "Green Float" – a carbon-negative ocean city. It is also designed by Shimizu Corporation. Along with Super Collaborative Graduate School and Nomura Securities. They are researching the technical issue involved in constructing the "Green Float" concept – a self-sufficient, carbon-negative floating city that would reside in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Similarly to the first project that was mentioned, it will comprise of separate floating neighborhoods/cells, resembling lilies. Those would come together to form a compact village capable of housing 10000 to 50000 people. And if those are then put together, they can form cities for 100000 people or even more. With most of the people living in the 1km high “City in the Sky” towers in the center of the circular cells. Additional “waterside” residential zones comprising the low-rise townhouses would be located on the outer edge of the structure’s outer circumference. Taking advantage of the cooler temperatures, the tower residents and services would be located at the top of the tower at an elevation of 700m (2,296 ft), providing year-round temperatures of 26-28 C (79-82 F). And as the population of cities would grow, additional cells could be added to expand the already existing polis. With central tower being surrounded by grassland and forests and the circumference adjoining marine forests, lagoons, and beach resorts. Those cells are designed to be completely self-sufficient in terms of food. the 1km high towers will contain a plant factory, while livestock and other farming would take place in “plains” that are surrounding the tower.
Those cities would use a number of technologies to nullify their carbon imprint. The compact form of the city by itself would allow a 40 percent reduction in CO2 through more efficient transportation. Increased thermal insulation, facility efficiency and other advanced technologies that would give another 30 percent reduction. The last 30 percent would be reduced by solar power, provided by the space satellites, ocean thermal energy conversion, coupled with wind and wave technologies. All of this would be coupled with recycling and converting waste into energy to produce zero waste. On top of that, it would help with cleaning up the oceans by collecting the passing “garbage islands” for use as an energy resource.
Those islands would be located at the equator, in the area that is less prone to typhoons, storms, and other environmental hazards. But it would still have an emergency mechanism in case it would get hit by large waves. Those would be the strong elastic membranes, attached to the lagoons around the outer circumference of the cells, going up to 10m (32.8 ft) in height. In addition to this, there will be 20-30m (66-98 ft) high seawalls, capable of handling any worst-case scenario. Their current goals are to launch in as soon as 2025.
Another project that should be taking shape in the near future is being created by a Seasteading Institute in San Francisco. It is supposed to include hotels, restaurants and power plants with sufficient clean water and other resources to be self-sustainable. From what is known about it, it faces several considerable engineering challenges and requires a considerable investment to become reality. It has reached an agreement with the French Polynesian government and is currently working on a presentation of its viability. However, they will have to put considerable work and effort to make it a reality.
Overall, there are other interesting concepts that can as well become reality. We will most likely see how such projects will shape themselves as they may become more important as we potentially experience more effects of climate change. There had been some predictions of the cities at the oceanside that will be affected the most, but we will have to see how the events will develop in their entirety. But having several possibilities to mitigate the possible adverse climate effects might certainly prove useful.
The projects are also interesting as an example of how previously inhospitable environments can be inhabited. Particularly if we look at them in terms of scalability. They can definitely grow into larger cities and we would most likely see them reach the ocean depth in some of its parts. Even if those will be remote stations, integrated into a large oceanic megapolis. We could definitely have those cities layered into different parts with only the top being on the surface. This would make a lot of sense for dealing with all kinds of storms that can occur on the ocean surface. For example, we might decide to have the living quarters below the water surface and have humongous gardens on top, with recreational spaces and humongous farms that would be integrated into large automated plant-growing systems. Coupled with large gardens and parks and anything else that we might need. Therefore, once such projects are developed to their largest capacity they can become marvels of human engineering.