Floating architecture isn’t just a vision of the future; it’s a reality unfolding in the present. As we confront the challenges posed by climate change, we must also acknowledge the immediate consequences of our changing environment. Rising sea levels, driven by climate change, are reshaping our coastlines. By 2050, the United States is expected to witness a rise of 10 to 12 inches in sea levels, a transformation that poses a grave threat, particularly to the 900 million people living in low-lying coastal areas. In the face of this, some visionary architects are reimagining a world where we coexist with water, even on it.
The Rise of Climate-Resilient Floating Cities
The concept of “climate-resilient” floating cities has captured headlines and imaginations alike. Ambitious projects like the ocean settlement in South Korea and a 20,000-person floating city in the Maldives are capturing attention. Yet, existing projects in cities such as Lagos and Rotterdam offer tangible glimpses into what life on water could be, and these projects have the potential for scalability.
NLÉ’s Exploration of Floating Architecture
One notable player in the realm of floating architecture is NLÉ, an architecture practice led by Kunlé Adeyemi. NLÉ has been at the forefront of researching and testing floating architectural solutions worldwide. Their work, showcased in the “Water Cities Rotterdam” exhibition, draws inspiration from the Makoko Floating School project in Lagos, Nigeria. This project brought education to a flood-prone area using a school that floated on plastic barrels, showcasing adaptability in the face of water-related challenges.
The Makoko Floating System (MFS)
Building on the lessons learned from the Makoko project, NLÉ developed the Makoko Floating System (MFS), a sustainable timber structure designed for versatility and rapid assembly. The MFS, engineered to meet European building codes, offers a modular solution that can be constructed efficiently without heavy equipment. It comes in various sizes, opening up possibilities for housing, education, and more.
Expanding Globally and Reshaping Communities
The MFS has found applications in various countries, including Italy, Belgium, and China, demonstrating its adaptability across diverse climates and water conditions. In 2021, it took root in Mindelo, Cape Verde, as a floating “music hub.” Kunlé Adeyemi’s vision extends beyond individual projects, aiming to uplift vulnerable communities on a global scale.
Rotterdam’s Affinity for Floating Architecture
Rotterdam, a city highly susceptible to rising waters, serves as a fitting backdrop for these innovations. With 90% of the city below sea level, floating architecture is not a novelty; it’s a necessity. Local architects, like Public Domain Architects (PDA), have embraced the concept with projects such as Nassauhaven, a floating residential area designed to adapt to changing tides while prioritizing sustainability.
A Sustainable and Resilient Future
Projects like Nassauhaven emphasize the potential of floating structures as a sustainable and resilient solution for housing in Rotterdam. They incorporate features like solar panels, biomass heating, and wastewater purification, aligning with the city’s shifting landscape. Pieter Figdor, CEO of PDA, asserts that building on water offers a safer approach to climate adaptation than traditional land-based barriers.
Expanding the Horizon
Architects like Kunlé Adeyemi and firms like PDA are not stopping at individual projects. They envision the growth of floating communities and even multi-story “water-scrapers.” These initiatives represent a forward-looking perspective on how humans can coexist and thrive in a world increasingly dominated by water.
Filling the Gap in Water-Based Living Research
As Adeyemi rightfully points out, our understanding of living on water is underdeveloped, considering that 70% of the Earth’s surface is water. The work showcased at the Nieuwe Instituut and in Adeyemi’s new book, “African Water Cities,” signifies a crucial step toward addressing this gap, especially in the context of rising sea levels.
Embracing Water as Our Future
In closing, Adeyemi invites us to contemplate a future where human civilization embraces water instead of fighting it. As climate change reshapes our world, perhaps the answer lies not in resistance but in adaptation. Living with water could be the path to a more sustainable and harmonious coexistence.