Is floating architecture just a houseboat? Not always. With sea levels rising on an already stressed planet, and a rapidly growing world population on land, should we be looking to water as our new terra firma?

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Approximately 40% of the world’s population lives within 25 miles of coastlines that are predicted to be uninhabitable by 2100. With that knowledge, the United Nations‘ World Meteorological Organization warns about the urgency to protect communities from coastal hazards, such as erosion, waves and storm surges.

Related: Turning motion in the ocean into incredible wave energy

Venice, Italy, comes to mind when we think of a city that lives in harmony with and on the water. The city of Venice floats on 118 islands at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea. Its developers created a series of canals to be used as streets and drove wood foundations into mud islands to build the city upon. Over 400 bridges link the city together.

A canal in Venice, Italy

The city has understandably dealt with some serious flooding over the last couple hundred years but has also sunk measurably, weakening its buildings’ foundations. As sea levels continue to compound the structural damage, much of the Adriatic Coast may be underwater within this century.

Venice was not built to withstand the effects of such aggressive global warming, despite being an engineering feat of its time. We ask these questions: What are architects and engineers learning from the accomplishment of that great city? What are the lessons learned going forward for cities of the future built on water?

Cities by the sea or cities on the sea?

No longer the stuff of science fiction, floating cities on the sea could be one of the most progressive ways to deal with the loss of our planet’s coastal regions. While there are many examples of thriving houseboat communities, none are self-sustaining cities that are now being proposed to relieve land-based dwellings. 

As our oceans suffer from pollutants, some cities are being conceived to care for marine life and help maintain balance in marine ecology. Such marine culture could even be used to farm fish and other forms of nutrition provided by our oceans to feed the world’s population.

Some of the cities are also being designed to be towed into areas of the ocean that need ecological support or to house ocean research projects.

A houseboat painted a light blue

Floating homes and houseboats

Floating homes and houseboats are terms used interchangeably by some, but by true definition, there are some key differences. Floating homes are permanently docked and hooked up to city services, while houseboats have the ability to be navigated from place to place and docked where allowed.

Houseboats have long been considered to be more financially achievable homes. However, many new technologies are being developed to make floating homes more sustainable and able to endure volatile conditions on Earth.

In the Ontario, Canada, region, Floating House is one such house built to withstand the lake’s fluctuating levels dictated by the seasons and climate change. Its 1,000 square feet of living space floats atop steel structure pontoons. Such a design gives it the ability to adapt quickly to water levels without compromising the structure of the home. This home is also anchored to the surrounding bedrock.

Future water housing projects

Recently unveiled in Busan, South Korea, OCEANIX is projected to house a community of 12,000 people. It will provide everything from housing to recreation on the water. Additionally, it will be built with sustainable systems that will focus on waste, food production and energy.

The communities will have their own gardens to grow their food, and a photovoltaic system will provide all the energy required. Wastewater will be treated and replenished, providing for all the water needs of each neighborhood.

Next, the Maldives is fighting rising sea levels by building an island city in its archipelago. The city, designed by a Netherland-based architectural firm, will be comprised of 5,000 modular structures.

It will house and provide services for twenty thousand people, offering schools and shops at affordable pricing to attract buyers. The city will have walkable floating streets and boats will transport people from the mainland.

Because most of the Maldive islands are only a few feet above sea level, this low-lying area is greatly feeling the negative effects of a warming planet. Coral reefs also feel the effects of coastal erosion, which in turn, threatens some of our oceans’ most valuable resources.

We flock to our waters for the views they offer and their healing properties. In doing so, we contributed to their overtaxed infrastructures, contamination and erosion. Their fragility is now, in many ways, incurable. 

Perhaps if we are living on our water bodies, with the seas as a precious resource that houses us, we will be more prone to look after them and protect them from the pollutants we have so tainted them with.

Via World Meteorological Organization

Images via Unsplash, Pixabay