Float On: The Future of Aquatecture

In order to adapt to increasing prevalence of catastrophe, we may need to take the ‘Noah’s Ark’ approach. Architects have already begun to explore the possibilities of floating lifestyles.

Tian Wang Tian Wang

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For centuries, humans have been learning from nature to build floating structures. We’ve evolved from the days of coracles built for a single person only to mega-structure cruise ship fitted with bars, concert halls, swimming pools and rooms for a thousand people. However, floating accommodation like cruise, yacht or floating houses still largely rely on land storage and transportations for essential supplies– electricity, gas, broadband etc. Even though concepts of the floating city have been proposed with self-sufficient schemes, due to the high cost of stepping out of the box, most of them remain just that — concepts.

As the sea level continues to rise and extreme weather worsens (both at alarmingly quickening rates), we, as architects, must seriously reconsider the way people live and work with water. In addition to the threat of sea-level rising in coastal regions, we should also keep an eye on unexpected flooding under volatile weather, which can cause severe damage to inland areas near large tributaries. In order to adapt to increasing prevalence of catastrophe, we may need to take the ‘Noah’s Ark’ approach and to build various floating architectures. Although it may sound extreme, this is not unprecedented. Architects have already begun exploring the possibilities of floating lifestyles — as you’ll see in the following 7 projects.

Floating islandThe Floating Island by OBBA, Bruges, West Flanders, Belgium

Along the canal cutting through the City of Bruges, OBBA built a floating pavilion for the Triennale Brugge 2018. The structure relies on pontoons, metal frames and deck plates to float on the water. On top of the floating deck, rope curtains are knitted between the metal rails and pillars to blur the boundary between land and water. The floating pavilion also brings vitality to the canal, creating a space for residents to walk, play and relax on.

Floating saunaKaluga Floating Sauna by Rintala Eggertsson Architects, Ugra River, Russia

On Russia’s Festival of Landscape Objects 2008, the Finnish firm Rintala Eggertsson Architects show cased a series of floating islands. Along the riverbank, they built a sauna and spaces for gathering on the water. All of the islands also function as a safe point for swimming in the river. 

Floating down the Ugra River, people can enjoy bathing in a wild natural environment. During this sauna trip on the river, the bathing experience can be further elevated as the fragrance of pinewood changes when soaking by rainwater and river water.

Floating farm dairyFloating Farm Dairy by GOLDSMITH, Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands

This Floating Farm Dairy was completed in 2019 by GOLDSMITH, in Rotterdam’s harbor. The project houses 40 cows and is equipped with a whole production line of milk and yogurt processing as well as their retailing. To improve stability, the project team chose heavy concrete structures to stabilize the bottom and lightweight metal structures on the top to reduce overall weight. Hydroponic fruit production and recycled water treatment are situated on the submerged bottom level, while main storage and dairy production functions are on the middle level and cows on the transparent top level.

Floating bridgeFloating Bridge (concept) by Architecture Practice + Experimentation, Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands

Apart from functioning as a connecting/commuting bridge, this lightweight, floating structure is also designed as a viewing platform that provides a just-above water-level viewing point. Two spherical hinges allow the structure to move up and down with the tide, adding subtle changes to the view within the day. Interestingly, the hinges can appear either reflective or transparent from different viewing angles, allowing visually interacting with the boats passing under the bridge.

Hot HeartHot Heart (concept) by Carlo Ratti Associati, Helsinki, Southern Finland, Finland

Thermal energy driven from wind, solar and biomass are stored in this massive battery and fed back to the city’s heating system when needed. Within the project, 4 of the 10 basins are topped with enclosed greenhouses that grow plants from the rainforest climate zone. Hot water is stored underneath the greenhouses to directly provide the moisture and heat needed for a tropical rainforest. During winter, when walking and resting in these transparent greenhouses, people can enjoy the warmth and joy brought by the sunlight.

Water pavilionWater Pavilion (concept) by Daniel Valle, The Jacques Rougerie Foundation – 2016 Competition

Beyond awareness, this project aims to raise immediate public concern for one of the major consequences of global warming – sea level rising. As a way of demonstrating the dire urgency of the situation, the project team exhibited a building being nearly submerged in water. When walking on the roof and confronting the fears of being engulfed by the sea, people can experience and feel the risk that coastal cities are facing now. At the same time, the project also suggests a possible way of oceanic living. When changing buoyancy, the project can be shifted from the state of a boat to submarine, between dry and wet.

City of meriensCity of Meriens (concept) by Jacques Rougerie Architectes Associés

This giant manta is a concept of an International Oceanographic University architecture, which can drift in ocean currents. It aims to accommodate 12 to 15 thousand researchers, teachers and students in this 900 x 500 meter mini-city. Functionally, it has lecture halls, classrooms, labs, living areas, recreational areas and all the facilities needed. This oceanic community also comes with its own ecosystem — an interior lagoon with aquaculture breeding farms included, and hydroponic greenhouses on both of its wings.

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