The Not Too Distant Future of Floating Cities - Surf Week

By Brian Fencil

Image courtesy of AT Designs.

Since at least the 1930s, floating cities have been promised as being just around the corner, and we keep on waiting for them. Again in the 1970s, a floating city was promised in Hawaii, but the closest thing to a floating city there are large groups of surfers waiting for a swell.

To our disappointment, history repeats itself. Every few years, another architect designs another fantastic oceanic version of a skyscraper, or a city that resembles a Lilypad. Each marvelous, but only extant in digital renderings.

But, this sci-fi idea might just come true this time, really. Not just because another team has made designs, but because they might test it next year.

The design company AT Designs was commissioned by the Chinese construction firm CCCC to design a floating city, and they designed a city that makes even Paris look like a big, concrete mistake.

The city has two very different levels; both are gorgeous. Above the water, there are long parks that run the roofs of hexagonal or triangular buildings. Below water, huge chimneys let fresh air and direct sunlight to the bottom of the city. Huge windows unveil the marine life in a way never experienced before.

The designers plan on using the ocean for internal and external transportation. Internally, people can use electronic submarines to move through the city’s canals and underwater roadways. And, a large dock will allow cruise ships and private boats to travel to and from the mainland. This simple method of getting around is one of the reasons the city would be sustainable and environmentally friendly.

It will also have its own farms, hatcheries, and sanitization services, making it literally and metaphorically, an island. That way, the island is not dependent on boats traveling to and from the mainland, which will keep it carbon neutral.

Constructing a floating city might seem audacious. How could you possible float an entire city? However, the technology to do so has existed since the ’40s and has been improving.

In World War II, troops used giant floating breakwaters during the Normandy invasion. A decade later, architects used floating caissons to support New York’s Pier 57.

Also, semisubmersible rigs used in offshore drilling have had amazing success with their floating pontoons, which could be used to float something much bigger than an oil rig. In 2012, a group of Rice University students won the Obedrecht Award for their design of a floating city that was supported in the same way.

Others are confident in the ability to float an entire city as well. The Seasteading Institute, a group that wants to help people create floating cities, analyzed using this technology to float a small city. They have done countless hours of research and have found that seasteading is possible, just very expensive. A semisubmersible city large enough for 300 people, would cost $226 million to construct, and would have an annual maintenance cost of $8 million. They also found that a smaller and more basic version of AT Design’s model would cost $167 million.

A third group envisions life on a gigantic ship, called The Freedom Ship International. It will be 4,500 feet long, 750 feet wide and 350 feet tall and can accommodate 40,000 residents and 10,000 over-night guests (if ever built). The cost is around $11 billion.

Neither of these groups has built a floating city, not because it is unfeasible at the moment, but because it is not a case of “build it and they will come.” The cost and risks prevents that.

Image courtesy of AT Designs.

What needs to be done is not a change in technology, but a change public opinion, which is why AT Designs is important to pay attention to. If next year, AT Designs’s test is successful, you can expect people to start dreaming of living on a floating city.

As with all progress–with enough confidence and interest, the foundations of the floating city of our sci-fi dreams could actually appear in a few years. The technology, after all, is already here.