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Are Ocean Societies the New Frontier for Sustainable Living?
Could the middle of the ocean offer sustainable dwelling places for mankind in the future? Estonian architect Marko Järvela of Hirvesoo Arhitektibüroo, winner of the aesthetics category in the first design competition for seasteading, believes that sustainable water-locked living could in fact become a wonderful reality. He saw designing “SESU Seastead” (short for SElf-SUstained seastead), as an opportunity to find the reality in ideas that are “balancing at the edge of utopian.” Järvela says that his winning design for a mini-society in the ocean is based on a self-sufficient lifestyle that requires a rearrangement of priorities.
Järvela’s “SESU Seastead” design includes passive solar design principles and has a layered interior based on thermal and functional zoning. Vegetation is used throughout the platform to provide food to residents, but also to regulate climate. The concept is focused on “aerodynamics, hydrodynamics as well as the capability to sail the open sea and withstand harsh weather conditions.” He enjoyed most the challenge to create living and working spaces in this utopian environment that recognizes “soft values” like being able to withdraw and meditate at will, but also encourages realistic needs such as enabling residents to manage their own energy resources.
The design competition for seasteading was held by non-profit organization The Seasteading Institute (TSI) whose managing members are a mix of Silicon Valley investors, bright-eyed economists, and engineering gurus, who hail from big name companies that were once small ventures including Paypal, Google, and Sun Microsystems. At first glance, the TSI mission for “growth of permanent, autonomous ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems” could seem like a new twist on libertarianism. But clearly stated at their first annual conference last October, they are not just focused on politics, but conscious of high profit margins and ecological innovations. They plan to take advantage of the 70% of the earth that does not currently have any real estate value – the ocean.
Another great thing about this group of financiers and dreamers is that they want their new ocean societies to have outstanding aesthetics. The purpose of their design competition was to select the most beautiful, visually powerful seasteads. The building’s function was open to the designer’s choosing, but the architecture had to be formed around a framework created by engineers at TSI. In addition, the entrants were given a vast amount of background information on designing for the harsh, corrosive sea environment — from fighting off barnacles to illustrating the design issues with platform bobbing.
With a proposed cost of $50/sq. ft., the TSI vision is to develop customizable modular platforms made from affordable materials, or even waste materials such as soda bottles, and the focus is on self-sustaining societies. Holding to these principles, the estimated cost for a developed platform that is the length of a city block on all sides would cost $3 million — which is cheaper than the homes many TSI developers own in California’s Bay Area.
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