Magnetic levitation (aka “maglev”) technology is mostly associated with high-speed trains, but it could someday cross over into the world of architecture. That’s if Lira Luis gets her way. Luis has developed a concept for a ‘floating’ house that could help communities threatened by rising sea levels survive without having to abandon their hometowns. The idea is starting small, with a tiny model, but Luis has her sights set big. In fact, she wants to build a whole floating village.
The ‘floating community’ concept already exists for low-lying oceanfront cities, but those proposals typically involve dwellings meant to float on the water much like a boat. Luis’ floating house concept is the other kind of floating, more like a stationary hoverboard. Her design relies on maglev technology to allow homes to literally levitate without touching the land or the sea. Because of this feature, homes would be more or less impervious to the rising ocean levels.
Luis wants to test her concept in her homeland, the Philippines, on an island that is already threatened by frequent floods due to rising tides. There, homes are commonly built on stilts to help create safe living spaces above floodwater surges, but Luis saw a limitation in the design. Stilts can only protect a house if the floodwaters don’t rise higher than the structure, but a maglev home would always remain above the water level. The floating homes would be ‘anchored’ by oppositely charged magnets positioned along a pier, over which the houses would levitate.
Luis says: “Where Physics ends Architecture begins. I believe unconventional architecture can use known physics in novel ways to solve environmental issues. This is an architecture experiment, not the other way around. But it’s inspired by physics.”
We’ve already seen maglev technology used to make small objects levitate, like hoverboards and even bonsai trees. Luis has also built a tiny model of a levitating home, weighing just 13 ounces, and has successfully made it levitate 1.5 inches off the ground. She’s working on a larger prototype to show off at the Coverings Conference in Chicago later this month. Luis plans to eventually scale the concept up to the size of a house any islander would be happy to call their own floating home.
Although it’s too soon to put a price tag on maglev architecture, some skeptics say it would cost far too much to be practical to float the homes more than an inch.