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Living with rising water levels - what does the future hold?

There is an old saying that “God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland.” For centuries, the Dutch have built different types of barriers to hold back rising water which allowed for development. Could this be the way of the future?

If this is the future then Dutch architects have taken it a step further. With the rising sea levels, they have abandoned trying to curb the water and instead have looked at ways they can work with the inevitable. Their new approach is to find ways to live with it.

According to the report released by The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that global sea levels rose an average of nearly 20cm in the past 100 years and predicted that the rate would accelerate in this century.

With many of the world’s largest cities located on coastal estuaries, high and dry urban land will become an increasingly rare (and pricey) commodity.

But as we all know, at the rate of expansion for cities around the world, land like this would run out very quickly. What then?

This is where floating architecture comes in.


Lilypad - Vincent Callebaut

Architects like Vincent Callebaut has shown how we could live on a floating city which is self sustaining and beyond anything that we could have imagined a few decades ago.

It is a true amphibian half aquatic and half terrestrial city, able to accommodate 50,000 inhabitants and inviting the biodiversity to develop its fauna and flora around a central lagoon of soft water collecting and purifying the rain waters. This artificial lagoon is entirely immersed ballasting thus the city. It enables to live in the heart of the subaquatic depths. The multi-functional programming is based on three marinas and three mountains dedicated respectively to work, shops and entertainment. The whole set is covered by a stratum of planted housing in suspended gardens and crossed by a network of streets and alleyways with organic outline. The goal is to create a harmonious coexistence of Human / Nature and to explore new modes of living in the sea by building with fluid, collective spaces in proximity to overwhelming spaces of social inclusion suitable to meet all the needs of all the inhabitants.

The floating structures’ branches are directly inspired by the highly ribbed leave of the great lilypad of Amazonia Victoria Regia, blown up 250 times. The double skin is made of polyester fibres covered by a layer of titanium dioxide (TiO2) like an anatase which by reacting to the ultraviolet rays enable to absorb the atmospheric pollution by photocatalytic effect.

Entirely autosufficient, Lilypad takes up the four main challenges launched by the OECD in March 2008: climate, biodiversity, water and health. It reached a positive energetic balance with zero carbon emission by the integration of all the renewable energies (solar, thermal and photovoltaic energies, wind energy, hydraulic, tidal power station, osmotic energies, phytopurification, biomass) producing thus durably more energy than it consumes.

"In the last decade, floating architecture changed from a fringe niche market into a realistic opportunity for expanding the urban fabric beyond the waterfront," said Koen Olthuis, lead architect at Waterstudio.NL, an aqua-architectural firm in the Netherlands.

For Olthuis, creating floating buildings goes beyond architecture and is about a new vision for city planning.

"Instead of buildings that are not able to cope with the changing needs of a city, urban planners will start creating floating dynamic developments that can react to new and unforeseen changes," he said.

One of the most ambitious projects under development is in the Maldives, where Waterstudio.NL was tasked by the Maldives government to design a network of floating islands, including the Greenstar hotel that will feature 800 rooms, a conference center and a golf course. The $500 million project is set for completion by 2015.

Other projects in the works include Baca Architects' amphibious house destined for the Thames River in Great Britain. During dry times, the home would rest on a fixed foundation but could rise up to 8 feet if flooding occurred.

As the industry expands, Olthuis said the biggest challenge isn't technology but changing the public's perception of living on water. To help encourage the transition, designers often make the structures look and feel just like those on land.

"We want to diffuse the border between land and water," said Olthuis. "That is the first step in the general acceptance of floating cities."


Slinky Hotel - Remistudio (Alexander Remizov)



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