Floating dynamic cities - The possibilities of water-based urbanism

With a population of over seven billion worldwide and a rapidly rising sea level, there is no question that soon something will have to yield. The climate change generation is learning that redefining traditional processes may be the best way to address common problems. The relationship people have with their surroundings is paramount to the cultivation of a healthy, happy, and productive community. Building cities the same way as 500 years ago is no longer addressing today's environmental concerns.

Floating dynamic city

Floating City Apps

In addition to a change in climate, the fabric of society that is composed of political, economical, and social threads is also changing. With each passing decade, it is becoming more and more difficult to predict what the needs of tomorrow’s city will be. Since modern society's needs are variable, impulsive, and uncertain, architects and engineers are modifying the process of designing in itself to serve a mercurial atmosphere.
Although static designs have served well thus far, current conditions now require buildings to be multifaceted in order to justify construction. When a city's infrastructure no longer satisfies the community's needs, demolition and reconstruction is considered the common solution, even if the structures have technically not even come close to the end of their expected lifespan. This rigid, unforgiving design ends up costing a lot more than construction costs, as verified by environmental assessments. Apart from knowing the ill effects produced by traditional construction methods, there is enough data analysis and modern technology available to alleviate human impact and find more suitable solutions. By providing a resolution to many problems stemming from climate change and urbanization, water-based developments are redefining urbanism.

Water is one of few liquids that when it solidifies and becomes ice, it becomes less dense, allowing it to float, and just the same the world's perception should be more inclined to changing phases, for only an open mind may allow society to overcome what seems impossible. Water offers a solution to rigidity. It softens, cleanses, unifies, and makes things pliable. It will once again prove its perpetual value by challenging the limitations of conventional urbanism. Water is the basis for a dynamic city because with water, the possibilities are indeed endless.
Just as the elevator was essential to constructing higher when the value of land increased, the technology that is required to construct more buoyant already exists. Floating foundations made up of modern materials such as foam and concrete now allow for anything that is usually built on land to be built on water. Water offers the flexibility sought after by contemporary designers and urban planners as well as an ample amount of space in the forms of rivers, lakes, canals, and coastal zones. Floating foundations could be as small or as large as necessary. It is now possible to make a floating city that offers all of the amenities required by society, complete with roads, houses, parks, and all utilities necessary to foster a typical, functioning community. Floating foundations do not hinder the quality of infrastructures; any house built on land can be built and stabilized over water. Water is a platform with the ability of sustaining the next conversation.

In contrast to land construction, constructing on water does not overcome our surroundings. A floating development is constructed in a controlled environment, a warehouse near the waterfront. After construction, the development is then moved to its appointed location for installation. It is critical to consider the potential effects of the structure on its surroundings before the floating development is approved for the proposed location. Any evidence of contamination or negative influence on the surrounding waters will be enough to perform a thorough analysis of the floating foundation in order to correct any weaknesses and/or propose an alternate location. This process speeds up construction, lowering many costs associated with traditional construction delivery methods.

The adaptable design of floating developments is fundamentally environmentally friendly, especially when compared to static structures. Floating developments are in alignment with a closed loop, cradle to cradle design. A floating development is used, re-modified, restructured, moved, and reused until the product's lifecycle has been completely exhausted, at which point it is recycled, and all wastes associated with this process are appropriately discarded of. The dynamic quality of floating developments and the system of production associated offers a new method of construction that is minimally invasive.

Since most modern urban developments have a functional lifespan of approximately fifty to eighty years, a home or business owner is considered a consumer of a product with a limited lifecycle, that will eventually expire. Consumption urbanism is an appropriate term to describe the relationship that has evolved between people and their surroundings. Similar to how modern technology provides customization tools in order to organize and seamlessly integrate virtual amenities into a person's life, floating technology strives to make use of its adaptability by impacting consumption urbanism and offering mobile urban components known as City Apps. Adding an floating app to a city is similar to adding an application to a smart phone. City Apps are floating urban components with all different kinds of functions, which are added to an existing city's static grid. Flexible, reusable, and scarless, City Apps are created off-site then moved into an area, providing instant solutions that respond to a society's changing needs. Some examples of possible additions are floating apartment complexes, floating cruise terminals, floating car parks, floating forests, or even floating energy plants. City Apps are easily moved and updated, which opens the possibility of relocation, lease, or resale by transferring them elsewhere when and if there is no longer a need for them in their original location. Since consumers can order these floating developments through leading manufacturers, much like any other product hot off of a production line, the economy of the area will be influenced by association with the construction and management of these structures. Since the majority of the world's largest cities are located on or near the waterfront, a new understanding of consumption urbanism will help revitalize coastal metropolises.

One example of the possibilities of water-based urbanism is being witnessed in south Asia. The Maldives, a low-lying country made up of over a thousand islands located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, has been devastated by rising sea levels. Climate change is not only threatening the country's citizens and structures, but also jeopardizing the Maldivian culture and way of life. The state of urgency has the country's leadership looking for any and all environmental remedies to protect their people. Floating developments have come to realization through a joint venture of the Maldivian government and Dutch Docklands, a Dutch developer in association with Waterstudio, a Dutch architecture firm specializing in the development of floating structures. Waterstudio has designed several floating concepts, considered large-scale City Apps. These initial projects will serve to inundate the country’s economy, which is largely dependent on tourism, and achieve the support necessary to spread the floating philosophy even further. The master plan, “The 5 Lagoons”, provides high-end luxury projects in the Maldives such as the world’s first 18-hole floating golf course. This project also includes sumptuous villas, a Venice-like village, and tailored private islands. Once these projects prove to be reliable and successful investments, floating developments will have the opportunity to impact more of the country's infrastructure, changing the face of urbanism.
Water-based urbanism is also set to impact humanitarian and environmental reforms. It is becoming evermore difficult to allot an appropriate amount of land for the conservation of wildlife habitats within city limits. The increase of difficulty in promoting park developments have set back several preservation initiatives, eager to find a way to protect animal habitats. Conserving habitats for birds, bees, bats and other small animals would not only increase biodiversity, but it would also provide any city with a multitude of positive, environmental effects, promoting the general health and well-being of the community at large. In response to an increase in the demand and urgency for wildlife protection, Waterstudio has designed a urban component known as the Sea Tree, in order to create the necessary green spots within a city. Sea Tree is a floating, steel structure made up of vegetated, layered habitats designed exclusively for flora and fauna. As a way of giving back to nature, Sea Tree is designed and constructed taking into consideration every element essential to fostering an abundant habitat for species both above and below the water table. Under water the Sea Tree provides a habitat for small water creatures or even, when the climate allows, for artificial coral reefs.

Sea Tree is built using the latest offshore technology, similar to the existing and proven technology required for the construction of oil storage towers, found in the open seas. Large oil companies will have the opportunity to give back by using their own intellectual property and resources to donate Sea Trees to communities in need, showing their concern and interest in preserving the distressed wildlife. Sea Tree provides the ideal environment for a multitude of species, not to mention a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. One Sea Tree has the potential to affect a zone of several miles around the moored location by providing habitat to many plants and animals in search of refuge. The Sea Tree will be the first floating object that is solely intended to be a contribution for the benefit of the environment.

Another example of the potential of water-based urbanism as a solution to global challenges is seen through the development of City Apps for slum communities. Due to an increase in population, especially in urban areas, the number of slum dwellers in developing countries is rising. According to a study conducted by UN-HABITAT, it is estimated that one billion people worldwide live in slums and that this figure will to grow to 2 billion by 2030. Slums are characterized by an organic structure composed by unplanned, consolidated, makeshift buildings resulting in a dense combination of random materials. Slums usually develop on the borders of a metropolis, and many times slums are located on discarded waterfronts, growing unsafely further and further into the open water.

On one hand, slums are sustainable by nature. They have a low impact on the environment, and inhabitants will slowly transform an abandoned or condemned area of a city into something of value. This transformation will usually result in a close-knit community of hundreds of thousands of people, with their own culture, way of life, and economy. On the other hand, slums are fragile and very sensitive to the climate changes, natural diseases, and city evolution. Slums contain some of the most important social and urban challenges of the 21st century. Slum communities require support to prosper, to create new opportunities for themselves in the future, and to address social and environmental problems.

All over the world people have started to see the potential of floating developments. Floating developments, in particular, have the ability make a positive impact on slum communities that are living in conjunction with water, known as wet-slums. There are many communities all over the world that are threatened by rising sea levels, and it is important to shed light on people that are currently living without the most fundamental of necessities. A lack of sanitation and energy sources are common problems within slum communities that should be addressed. Slum communities are not only here to stay, but they are growing, and aiding these communities by upgrading living standards will offer prosperity and fortify the unique ways of life and cultures associated with these areas.

City Apps are the catalysts that will set off an evolving chain of events with the potential to finally bring significant results in the challenge to aid slum dwellers. These additions are based on considering what is needed, and they can be floating schools, floating purification plants, floating housing, floating agriculture plots, etc. Mobile urban components have opened up a new avenue full of possibilities that address modern problems with sustainable, customizable solutions, which is exactly what complicated issues require. Gradually, this design will adapt to address what becomes known to work, as well as what simply does not work. Slum communities will benefit greatly from consumption, water-based urbanism, and it is paving the way for more aid to get to more people.

In conclusion, although floating technology may not be the answer to every problem, water-based urbanism is set to transform communities around the world. Traditional, static cities will become more dynamic. The foundations necessary to entertain innovative creations that will give shape to the future already exist. City Apps have the potential to affect communities all around the world, with a wide spectrum of known applications and an endless amount of possibilities. It is important to fearlessly confront challenges and failures with the courage to think outside the box and not to rely on conventional ways that are proving to come up short. Changing the perception towards water-based developments is crucial to finding opportunities that will provide greener, safer, and more flexible urban developments. An open mind will prepare cities for the global challenges yet to come by providing economical, political, and environmental freedom and prosperity. The city of tomorrow is fast, flexible, conscious, and water-based.

Waterstudio.NL lead by Koen
Olthuis, is specialized in
architecture, urban 
and research related to

living, working and recreation
on water.

Join the team,
apply for an internship

+31 70 39 44 234
+31 70 26 010 96


Twitter Koen OlthuisFacebook Koen Olthuis YouTube Waterstudio.NLLinkedIn Waterstudio.NL