By: April Carson
A city is emerging from the water off the coast of India. In a turquoise lagoon just 10 minutes by boat from Male, the Maldivian capital, a floating metropolis with enough capacity to accommodate 20,000 people is being built.
The city will have its own hospitals, schools, residences, office buildings, and even an airport. It will be entirely self-sufficient, with its own power plant and water treatment facility. And it will be built to withstand rising sea levels and the strongest hurricanes.
The Maldives is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, and its 1,192 islands are threatened by rising seas and more frequent cyclones. In 2008, the country's president commissioned a feasibility study for a floating city that could act as a refuge for the Maldivian people in the event of climate catastrophe.
The metropolis will be built in the shape of brain coral and have 5,000 floating units, including homes, restaurants, retail outlets, and schools. Residents will begin moving in early 2024, with the entire city expected to be finished by 2027.
The construction of the floating city is an ambitious project, but it may be the only way to ensure the survival of the Maldivian people in a future that looks increasingly uncertain.
The project, a collaboration between property developer Dutch Docklands and the Maldives' government, is designed as a practical means to adapt to rising seas. It's not intended as some sort of futuristic fantasy: it's meant to be used right away.
The Maldives is an archipelago of 1,190 low-lying islands situated in the Indian Ocean. The country's 80 percent land area is less than one meter above sea level, and with predicted rises up to a meter by the end of the century, virtually the entire country could be under water.
However, a city may also float with the water. "New hope" for the more than 500,000 people of the Maldives is provided by Waterstudio's Koen Olthuis, who called it "a new beginning." They'll go from climate refugees to climate innovators, he said, adding that they will become climate pioneers rather than climate refugees.
Water has surrounded him his whole life, so it was only natural for Olthuis to combine his two passions. His mother's side of the family were shipbuilders, and his father is from a line of architects and engineers; it seemed only natural to blend the two together, he said. In 2003, Olthuis started Waterstudio, an architecture firm that focuses exclusively on water-based projects.
He also mentioned that the first time he saw a product like this was in 2015, when flooding caused by climate change had become more severe. Signs of global warming were evident at the time, but they weren't considered a big enough problem that you could start a business around it. The main issue then was space: cities were growing rapidly, but suitable new urban development sites were becoming increasingly rare.
However, climate change has become a "trigger" in recent years, pushing floating architecture to the forefront. Waterstudio has designed more than 300 floating dwellings, workplaces, schools, and health care centers all over the world during the previous two decades.
The Netherlands has become a hotspot for the movement, with floating parks, a floating dairy farm, and even a floating office building serving as the Global Center on Adaptation's headquarters.
Now, Waterstudio and Dutch Docklands are working on the ambitious task of building an entire floating city in the Maldives.
The first phase of the project, which is currently underway, will consist of a series of floating islands that will be used for residential, commercial, and recreational purposes.
The next phase will see the construction of a floating hospital and a school, followed by more residential units and a hotel.
"The cost of not adapting to these flood risks is enormous," he said. "We have a decision to make: we can either delay and pay or plan ahead and thrive. Floating offices and buildings are part of our efforts to prepare for the future climate."
If the project is successful, it could be a model for other coastal communities around the world that are facing similar threats from rising sea levels.
The Maldives is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and its president has been vocal about the need for action on the issue.
Flooding last year cost the global economy more than $82 billion, according to reinsurance firm Swiss Re, and costs are expected to rise as climate change exacerbates more severe weather. According to a World Resources Institute report, by 2030, urban real estate worth over $700 billion will be affected every year by coastal and riverine flooding.
Despite recent advances, floating architecture has a long way to go before it can rival conventional construction in terms of scale and cost. "That's the next stage in this path: how will we expand while also accelerating? There's a sense of urgency when it comes to scaling up and speeding things up."
Although both objectives rely on the same fundamentals, their methodologies are quite different. The goal of the Maldives project is to build a city for 20,000 people in less than five years. Other floating cities have been proposed, including Oceanix City in Busan, South Korea, and a series of floating islands created by Dutch firm Blue21 in the Baltic Sea, but none approach this size or timetable.
With its multicolored homes, wide balconies, and seaside vistas, Waterstudio's city is intended to entice locals. Residents may either travel by boat or walk, cycle, or drive electric scooters or buggies along the sandy streets. There are also plans for an underwater hotel and a marine research center.
"We want to make it as attractive as possible for people to move there, so that it's not only a city for wealthy people who can afford to live in an exclusive environment," says Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio. "It should be a city for everybody."
The Area is a new premium condominium project located in Male, the capital of the Maldives. It provides hard-to-find space in Male, which is one of the world's most densely populated cities and has more than 200,000 people crammed into an area of just over eight square kilometers. Prices are reasonable when compared to those on Hulhumalé (a manmade island built adjacent to ease overcrowding), with studios starting at $150,000 and family homes costing $250,000.
The modular components are built in a nearby shipyard and towed to the floating metropolis. Once in position, they are connected to a huge underwater concrete hull that is anchored to the seabed using telescopic steel stilts that allow it to gently move with the waves. The city's surrounding coral reefs assist to provide a natural wave breaker, stabilizing it and preventing its inhabitants from becoming seasick.
According to Mr. Olduis, the building's environmental effect was meticulously examined by local coral specialists and authorized by government authorities before work began. Glass foam artificial coral banks are linked to the city's underside to help stimulate corals to develop naturally, he added.
The objective is to have a city that is self-sufficient and has all of the same capabilities as one on land. There will be electricity, generated mostly by solar power on site, and sewage will be treated locally and used as fertilizer. Deep water sea cooling, rather of air conditioning, will be used in place of air conditioning to save energy.
In the meantime, Olthuis is working on establishing a fully operational floating city in the Maldives. This sort of design, he believes, will be taken to the next level with this project. It won't be "freak architecture" any longer—only expensive retreats commissioned by the super-rich—but it will be an answer to climate change and urbanization that's both useful and inexpensive, according to him.
He explained, "To make a difference as an architect, we must expand."
"The Maldives is a test case," he said. "It's the perfect place to start because it's so vulnerable. It will be a model for other countries."
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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