The world’s environment is in crisis. Symptoms of this crisis include rising sea levels and more catastrophic flood events, especially in urban areas. But the human population is still growing, and many regions require significant new constructions. Responding to these challenges, architects and developers are adopting novel methods to create the buildings of the future. This article explores one of these novel methods: floating buildings.
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Building on a Liquid Foundation
The C40 network, a group of global cities working together to address climate change, estimates that more than 570 cities will be threatened by rising sea levels by 2050 and that it will cost trillions of dollars to mitigate this risk.
Low-lying coastal cities – which are currently home to a majority of the world’s human population – will have to turn to innovative new construction methods in order to survive. Buildings that float on water may well become the innovation that these communities adopt.
This includes buildings that usually sit on the ground but can float with rising flood waters, as well as buildings that float permanently on bodies of water.
However, there are a number of challenges to designing and constructing floating buildings that are not present in traditional, land-based development. To name just a few: different mechanical and chemical stresses apply, waterproofing becomes a much more involved process, and access can be highly restrictive.
Danish maritime architects MAST, alongside Hubert Rhomberg and the FRAGILE studio, have developed a cutting-edge floating construction method that is being demonstrated in the Land on Water project, in Denmark.
The team has addressed challenges to floating construction by designing a prefabricated, modular floatation system that uses recycled plastic to create a buoyant building foundation.
The system is inspired by gabion construction, which fills mesh cages with rubble to create strong, cheap foundation blocks. Instead of rubble, the Land on Water project fills mesh cages with recycled plastic to create a floating foundation. Cages can be added or removed to the design to fine-tune buoyancy levels, meaning the system can be adapted to support buildings of varying weights.
As well as reusing waste plastic and other buoyant trash, the system developed by MAST and partners avoids the need for toxic anti-fouling paints typically used on floating concrete and steel foundations. This means that mollusks and seaweeds can freely attach to the submarine structure, creating a habitat for fish and crustacean populations.
In the Netherlands, reclaiming building space from water is essentially a national tradition. But this does not stop new innovation from rising to the surface, and the Floating Office Rotterdam project is an example of just that.
The development was designed in response to climate change and the risk of more frequent and severe flooding. As well as responding to climate change, the building takes a lead in addressing it by being entirely carbon neutral.
Floating Office Rotterdam (FOR)
Video Credit: Powerhouse Company/Youtube.com
The floating office is a three-story structure that houses former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s non-profit, the Global Center on Adaptation, as well as other high-profile tenants.
It floats on pontoons that rise and fall with water levels. The roof is filled with plants and overhanging balconies that cool the interior, reducing the need for internal climate control. It also uses renewable solar energy from panels both above and below the water line. Building materials were selected for ease of recycling at the building’s end-of-life stage.
In the Maldives, an archipelago state in the Indian Ocean, another Dutch architecture firm, Dutch Docklands, is building a low-rise city that will float as water levels rise. The island state is at high risk of rising sea levels, with 80% of its land rising no more than a meter above current sea levels.
The World’s First Floating City In The Maldives | Forbes
Video Credit: Forbes/Youtube.com
As a result, the Maldives Floating City project, located 10 minutes by boat from the capital Malé, will float on a flexible urban grid. Interlinked sections of construction will spread across a 200-hectare lagoon, connected by bridges, canals, and docks.
Barriers around the floating city lessen the impact of waves, while artificial reefs are being grown to further reduce the intensity of wave and tidal energy in the lagoon.
Yet another Dutch architecture firm, NLÉ, developed another floating construction concept to support its work in rapidly growing cities in developing regions. The slum community of Makoko, in Nigeria’s Lagos Lagoon, was home to its first prototype, the Floating School project.
Makoko Floating School - Nigeria
Video Credit: TheAgaKhanAward/Youtube.com
The project was developed in partnership with Makoko residents, with NLÉ adopting a social approach to development. Makoko residents have been building floating homes on stilts for years, and the Floating School extended and developed this tradition born out of necessity.
Unfortunately, the project collapsed just three years after construction finished, and the school only served its purpose for a few months in total. This has raised questions about the ethics of experimentation versus innovation in communities, as well as motivating architects to design more feasible floating buildings such as the projects discussed above.
Will Future Buildings Float?
Recently, an architecture researcher at Italy’s University of Ferrara published an article examining the performance of floating buildings. The paper identified several advantages for floating buildings, including better use of renewable energy sources and avoidance of land use changes.
But technical challenges still remain. Floating buildings of the future need to be economically and technically viable if these advantages can be realized at a global scale. Innovative projects like the ones discussed here are key to overcoming these challenges and demonstrating that floating buildings can be feasible now and in the future.
More from AZoBuild: Providing Emergency Accommodation with Modular Shelters
References and Further Reading
Gaestel, A. (2018). Things Fall Apart. [Online] Atavist. Available at: https://magazine.atavist.com/things-fall-apart-makoko-floating-school/
Habibi, S. (2015). Floating Building Opportunities for Future Sustainable Development and Energy Efficiency Gains. Architectural Engineering Technology. dx.doi.org/10.4172/2168-9717.1000142.
‘LAND ON WATER’ OFFERS A VISION FOR ADAPTABLE, CLIMATE RESILIENT LIVING ON WATER. (2022) [Online] Visual Atelier 8. Available at: https://visualatelier8.com/land-on-water-mast-danish-artchitecture/
Riise, J., and K. Adeyemi (2015). Case study: Makoko floating school. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2015.02.002.
Walker, A. (2021). The world’s largest floating office has just launched - is this the answer to our flood-prone future? World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/10/floating-buildings-climate-change-rising-sea-levels/