The city, designed in a pattern similar to brain coral, will consist of 5,000 floating units including homes, restaurants, shops and schools, with canals running in the middle. The first units will be unveiled this month, with population transfers to begin in early 2024, and the entire city set to be completed by 2027.
The project – a joint venture between property developer Dutch Docklands and the government of the Maldives – is not meant to be a wilderness experience or a futuristic vision: it is being built as a practical solution to the harsh reality of sea-level rise.
Do you want to protect your future home from rising sea levels? make it float
But if a city floats, it may rise as the sea rises. This is a “new hope” for more than half a million people in the Maldives, said Quinn Ulthuis, founder of Waterstudio, the architecture firm that designed the city. “It could prove that there are affordable housing, large communities, and regular cities on the water are safe as well. They (Maldives) will go from climate refugees to climate innovators,” he told CNN.
floating architecture axis
Born and raised in the Netherlands – where about a third of the earth lies below sea level – Ulthis has been close to water his whole life. He said that his mother’s side of the family were shipbuilders and that his father belonged to a group of architects and engineers, so it seemed only natural to combine the two. In 2003, he founded Olthuis Waterstudio, an architectural firm entirely dedicated to building on water.
At the time, he said, there were signs of climate change, but it wasn’t considered a big enough problem to build a company around. The biggest problem at the time was space: cities were expanding, but land suitable for new urban development was running out.
The Global Center for Adaptation is headquartered at the Neue Maas River in Rotterdam. attributed to him: Marcel Eggermann
But in recent years, climate change has become a “catalyst” driving floating architecture into the mainstream, he said. Over the past two decades, Waterstudio has designed more than 300 floating homes, offices, schools and healthcare centers around the world.
Patrick Verkoijen, CEO of GCA, sees floating architecture as a practical, smart, and economical solution to rising sea levels.
“The cost of not adapting to flood risks is extraordinary,” he told CNN. “We have a choice to make: Either we delay and pay, or we plan and thrive. Floating offices and floating buildings are part of that planning against the climate of the future.”
But despite the momentum in recent years, floating architecture still has a long way to go in terms of size and affordability, Verkoegen said. “This is the next step in this journey: How can we expand, and at the same time, how can we accelerate? There is an urgent need for scale and speed.”
Ordinary city, afloat
Waterstudio is designed to appeal to locals with its rainbow-coloured homes, spacious balconies, and waterfront views. Residents will get around in boats, or they can walk, cycle, or drive scooters or electric buggies along the sandy streets.
The capital of the Maldives is so overcrowded, there is no room for expansion by the sea. attributed to him: Carl Kurt/Getty Images AsiaPac
The modules are created at the local shipyard, then towed to the floating city. Once placed, it is attached to a large underwater concrete structure, which is anchored to the seabed on overlapping steel stilts that allow it to oscillate gently with the waves. The coral reefs that surround the city help provide and stabilize a natural breakwater and prevent residents from feeling seasick.
Olthuis said the structure’s potential environmental impact has been thoroughly assessed by local coral experts and approved by government authorities before construction begins. To support marine life, artificial glass-foam coral banks are attached to the city’s underside, which he said helps stimulate coral growth naturally.
The goal is for the city to be self-sufficient and have all the same functions that a city has on Earth. There will be electricity, powered mostly by solar energy generated on site, and sewage will be treated locally and reused as fertilizer for plants. As an alternative to air conditioning, the city will use deep water cooling, which involves pumping cold water from the deep sea into the lake, which helps save energy.
By developing a fully functional floating city in the Maldives, Olthuis hopes to take this type of architecture to the next level. He said there would no longer be “weird architecture” present in palatial sites commissioned by the super-rich, but an answer to climate change and urbanization, that is practical and affordable.
“If I, as an architect, want to make a difference, we have to scale it,” he said.