Gallery: Floating New Orleans to weather the storm

Floating New Orleans by Kiduck Kim and Christian Stayner

It’s been almost three years since New Orleans weathered Katrina’s wrath, and debate still rages over plans to reconstruct the sunken city. Myriad options have surfaced ranging from rebuilding the levees to designing storm resistant structures to not rebuilding at all. Here’s an approach that endeavors to ride the river rather than stem it’s course. Harvard Graduate School of Design students Kiduck Kim and Christian Stayner have conceived of a Floating City that will “rise safely in an Archimedean liquid landscape.”

We’ve covered floating homes in the past, but never on the scale of an entire city. Kim and Stayner’s concept re-imagines the city’s recourse to rising flood tides, welcoming in a once “unwanted guest.” Their proposal explains: “Housing plats and roads are marked by solar-powered lighting poles. Individual dwellings bob, tethered with RV-type umbilical cords through which potable water, electricity, sew-age, and telephone connections continue uninterrupted.”

Once the flood fades away, the city is redistributed in a new arrangement and “a postdiluvian landscape emerges. The city’s historic economic stratification is blurred. New soil de-posited by floodwater renews, regenerates, and reorganizes a city—by the very force threatening its existence.”

It’s a beautiful vision, but the project strikes me as tenuous to the point of abstraction; there is an abundance of practical and social factors that won’t fit neatly into freely floating boxes. The implications of continuing to subject the poorest people to the ebb and flow of floodwaters are dubious at best. One crucial consideration relates to how we deal with displacement – wouldn’t a city founded upon free-floating entropy end up in chaos? A flourishing post-diluvian society is an idyllic notion, but a system of constant displacement may serve to fracture the very community it hopes to sustain. Still, it’s future-forward solutions such as this that push the hardest for progress, and they are certainly worth exploring.

+ Floating in a Sinking City

+ Harvard Graduate School of Design


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  1. perfectcirclecarpenter July 28, 2010 at 11:32 am

    There’s no such thing as a safe place to live. And the price of the property usually reflects that. The question really is, which is more worthwhile, maintaining a dry land infrastructure that will periodically get destroyed? Or keep the regions permanently flooded with permanent aquatic housing.
    I think the author points out that it’s hard to establish permanence with a boat. And this lends the entire community to a real estate bracket at the lower end of the spectrum. This is why we (the rich) don’t like living in trailer parks. Frankly I don’t have a problem with affordable housing, portable or not, that wouldn’t get destroyed by flood. They can be permanent stilt houses too. But you can’t argue that creating this flooded zone would be any different than selling cheap flood plain property that will never hold value. Economically it will never be rich people property, therefore it will only ever be subject to poor people. What you can control is the frequency that their infrastructure and assets are destroyed. Floating houses = a lot less frequently.

    The only issues I see would be implementing infrastructure. To get anywhere you need a boat. Well that’s not too different from needing a car, except now you don’t need to pave roads… Because water never needs paving. You can require incinerating toiletry; I don’t see a problem with sewage. You might have a lot more fish to eat. It’s not like anyone is more successful hunting squirrels to eat as a land dweller. Getting to school, just hop on board the schoolboat. Use the same boat around just like a bus for people to ride, all day long.

    Tell ya what I’d feel safer in a boat town than what was there last time I was in New Orleans driving around. They should totally do this.

  2. Jimmy Sanchez June 12, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I think that regardless of the actual merits of the scheme, the critique in this article about the fracturing and disorganisation of a social space is a bit naive in two respects:

    1) an inherently negative bias imagines society as a place where the effect of moving is fracture, discontinuity and disorganisation. It fails to mention the more positive and noble attributes which can surface in times of stress or even when faced with unfamiliar social or physical geographies: people meeting new faces, the kindness of strangers, forging impromtu and practically based social connections, the refinement and flourishing of social skills and norms which can sometimes atrophy in normal urban environments. All in all, a world where my strange new neighbour after the flood is in a similar position to me, will feel an analogous impulse to reach out and find the safety of human contact and comfort to my own, is one which, while not stress free, does not sound unnattractive.

    2) rivers are in some ways predictably upredictable, if you excuse the bad english. So while one might find onself with new neighbours, in ones or twos perhaps, you will still inhabit an environment which is predominantly of similar social fabric to the one before the flooding event. Note also that the umbilicus mentioned will also effectively be a tether, restricting the distance and radius of travel unless there is an unfortunate accident.

    Finally, there is no direct analogue between the flood event envisaged here and that which occurred during Hurricane Katrina. Here there are effectively thousands of discreet units, boxes which although for habitation primarily are also full of the paraphernalia of living, of personality and of legacies. These people in the scenario envisaged will not have to come to terms with loosing the markers of their identity, loosing the ephemeral links between place and home, dealing with the shock of death and loss. I think people should at least give this project another look and enjoy the fun, positive aspects of it rather than dwelling on the darknesses of the past…

    My two cents… 😉

  3. zyde June 4, 2008 at 12:32 am

    … even if it works, i dont think i will like to live it a city that changes each time it floods. The sense of “home” is gone, it will feel like a constant wait for the flood. And from the pictures, it seems like there is a chance of the houses hitting each other.

  4. cpine June 3, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    …. so, the levees won’t fail, just the “RV” connections, and these luminaria will get flushed out to the Gulf in the next big blow. The surge was the result of a catagory 5 storm, not an overflowing bathtub….

  5. jessiejchuang June 2, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    To me this whole idea is way too Dadaist – relying heavily on chance. The diagram above is somewhat idealistic and lack careful consideration. Do they have a confident plan to prevent these houses from colliding and/or able to resist all degrees of flooding?

  6. GentillyGirl June 2, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    We are at 9\\\’ now. This is what my people have done for 300 years here. (BTW- I had a bookstore and a home when Loma Prieta snapped) We\\\’ve done the right things, but it doesn’t mean poop won’t happen.

    Let me put it this way: if y’alls wanna be safe, find an asylum. Life is life… you can get run over or shot. This is the price we pay for being alive.

  7. maitri June 2, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    The entire city is not below sea level. It is home to one of America’s oldest cultures, “protected” by the Army Corps of Engineers shoddy levees. Amsterdam holds back the ocean just fine with fine Dutch engineering.

  8. icedman June 2, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    aaron- lacking sensitivity is one thing but please dont be an uneducated ignoramous. New Orleans was actually built at sea level when it was founded, over THREE CENTURIES it ended up falling below sea level

  9. aaron June 2, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Maybe a city shouldn’t be built below sea level? I mean it’s kind of hard to hold back the ocean. Or would that just be the logical solution?

  10. Jayoutside June 2, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Ummmmm……OK. Let me say that no this is not going to work. Period. I am a born and bred New Orleanian. Anyone who wants to know what it is really like going through this should read a book by Chris Rose – “1 Dead in Attic”. I’ll leave it at that.

    Second – I’ll put my own 2 cents in if N.O. should be rebuilt or not. I’ll put it this way. San Francisco – the big one is coming. No one knows when, but if you don’t move out now, then you are part of the problem too.

    Kinda childish isn’t it? That’s what its like trying to say that an entire city is foolish for moving back.
    I wish all the best in imagination and creativity for solutions to help my city rebuild.

  11. ellaS June 2, 2008 at 11:21 am

    The natural levees alongside the river didn’t fail, and are in much less danger than the man-made ones. Also the land near the river is relatively high, and would be among the last places in the city to flood. And thats just the start of this project’s ignorance of what has happened and what is going on in this city.

    Contrast this project with Morphosis’s Make it Right entry features a structure that can float. Those large steel columns are allow the structure to move vertically, but allow it to remain in place and be stable. I think this is a far more respectful approach to the same basic strategy. I hope someone choses that design, but then I also hope the design never gets truly tested.

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