Humans have always lived on water. But these floating communities of hexagons - unveiled at the UN - are something else
We certainly need “deep adaptation” to what looks like a certain amount of climate change disaster - but nobody said we couldn’t be innovative and visionary with our engineering, architecture and design in response.
This excerpt from Wired magazine begins the story:
In 2007, entrepreneur Mark Collins Chen became the minister of tourism in his native French Polynesia. One of his first tasks was to assess whether sea level rise was a threat to the group of 118 islands, located in the South Pacific. He quickly learned that one-third of all of the French Polynesian islands would be submerged by either 2035 or 2050–depending on which scientist you spoke to.
To respond to the coming crisis, Chen (who served as minister of tourism for a year) wants to build groups of floating islands that would be able to act as new human settlements not only for French Polynesia, but for the countless other islands that will suffer a similar fate–as well as the many global cities that are located on the coast.
An estimated 2.4 billion people–40% of the world’s population–live in a coastal region and will likely be impacted by rising sea levels as a result of climate change. In late 2018, Chen started a company called Oceanix that is aimed at building the off-shore urban infrastructure that will help people weather the problems of rising seas–as well as extreme floods and storms.
This week, Chen and a group of collaborators ranging from famed architect Bjarke Ingels to experts in zero waste, water engineering, mobility, and energy-efficient design unveiled plans for what a sustainable floating city might look like at the United Nations in New York. They laid out a plan based on 4.5-acre hexagonal floating islands–about the size of three and a half football fields–that each houses 300 people. “This becomes the basic molecule of a sharing urban system,” Ingels said.
Combining six of these islands forms a small village around a central open port, with each island having some kind of dedicated communal use–like healthcare, education, spirituality, exercise, culture, and shopping. Then, if you continue to scale up and loop six villages together, you end up with a small city of 10,800 people. Outside the floating city there would be small uninhabited islands with dedicated purposes, like to collect energy from the sun or to grow food. These would also double as a buffer against waves and wind.
The UN hasn’t formally endorsed the project, but the design team’s presence at the organization’s headquarters lends legitimacy to an idea that in previous years might’ve seemed like science fiction. The assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UN Habitat Victor Kisob said in his opening remarks that “all solutions must be considered in how we build cities . . . . It’s our duty to make sure this burgeoning sector is mobilized for the good of all people.”
Floating cities are not new, and in fact, the idea goes all the way back to the Aztecs. Architect Buckminster Fuller also planned a floating city in the ’60s. There are floating neighborhoods in the Netherlands, and the Peter Thiel-backed Seasteading Institute wants to build floating islands that are free from government control.