21 Apr 2024

Are floating cities the future of urban living?

From Sunday Morning, 8:25 am on 21 April 2024

Dutch architect, Koen Olthuis has set his sights on the world's rising sea levels - not on battling these forces but harnessing them as the basis for a new architectural revolution.

Homes are built on concrete foundations that are anchored to the seabed and they rise and fall with the tide.

Waterstudio.NL, an architecture firm based in the Netherlands, has built the first houses in a floating city in the Maldives, and development of another floating city off the South Korean coast will begin later this year.

Dutch architect, Koen Olthuis, designs water architecure.

Photo: Waterstudio.NL

Olthuis told Sunday Morning the houses in the Maldives had the "same look and feel and stability and cost" as normal houses - but instead of cars or bikes, people used private boats or water taxis to move around their neighbourhood.

They had been designed to withstand natural disasters by looking at the effects on the Maldives of the 2004 tsunami, he said.

During that tsunami, the waves stayed "quite small" but moved "very very fast across the water," Olthuis says.

"We have now designed for the worst scenario - that means there will be a little bit of water damage, but never any personal damages."

Dutch architect, Koen Olthuis, designs water architecure.

Photo: Waterstudio.NL

Depending on the deepness of the ocean or river, it was often safer and better for the environment to build on water than on reclaimed land, Olthuis says.

The architecture firm had built floating villas on canals in Amsterdam, but floating cities could eventually grow much taller.

"On the water, it doesn't matter if you have one storey or three storeys or six storeys. It's just about the foundation - as long as the floating foundation is large enough and stable enough, you can build small towers on the water. That's the trend we are now moving towards."

Floating cities were dynamic and elements could be moved around to suit the needs of the inhabitants.

Houses could be moved closer together during winter, or redirected towards the sun, while floating parks could be move to better serve different neighbourhoods.

"That means in the summer the city can look completely different than in the wintertime."

Building on water could also be cheaper than building on land, as buying land in the city could be very expensive, Olthuis says.