Saturday, February 09, 2008

Houseboats and Floating Cities

A proposal for a floating city for Shanghai's World Expo by a team from the University of Delft.

I've always had a fascination for houseboats, probably because as a child I lived near Sausalito in the seventies when its houseboat community (which counted Alan Watts as a resident) was in its golden-age of anarchic hippiedom prior to the "house-boat wars" which. Two smaller communities of houseboats (and the occasional hippy) are still there, but not in the numbers or diversity of yesteryear. Ah...the good old days. Still, well worth a visit, and there are some crazy home-made ones still afloat.

There have been numerous speculative projects by architects over the years for floating communities- ranging from floating cities in Tokyo harbor to glorified tax-havens like the so-called Freedom Ship. Others have been smaller scale, individual units connected together in a tropical lagoon for example. Few have got off the drawing board, however. Those communities that do exist are largely ad hoc groupings of house boats in a pleasure port or along a river bank.
And then there are the squatter communities that live along various waterways on makeshift barges and rafts.

Recently NPR's and National Geographic's Climate Connections- a series (available as a podcast) dedicated to the effects of climate change around the world and how people are coping with it, dedicated part of an episode to a Dutch architect and his floating houses that are being used to create floating and mobile communities in the Netherlands. The Netherlands have of course, over a thousand year old history of battle against the "water-wolf" which threatens to consume their land- and with climate change that battle enters a new era. Merely raising the dykes will not work and there are many projects in the works, including the possibility of man-made barrier islands in the North Sea.

But there is growing recognition that planned flooding is going to be one way that they deal with problems of storm surges and flood waters from upstream- and houses that can lift off their foundation and float during a flood would be one way of keeping people, and their property, safe. Its am idea I had thought about years ago, basically a house that rose up on poles and sank down again- but since I'm not an architect, merely a dreamer, the idea was left to others. Still, nice to see that its finally being done.

Additionally, floating houses, or houseboats, can be built and floated to areas that are permanently underwater without the need to drain the land and create polders. In a densely populated country such as the Netherlands, that is definately a bonus. Check out the Climate Connection page dedicated to the architecture - Dutch Plan for a Floating Future.

And some Dutch architects, check the link below, are talking of colonizing the sea. Not exactly a new idea, but maybe one that has finally come of age. Perhaps the age of colonizing the sea has finally come about, and the Dutch are going to do it.

Of course, if we look around the world, we see that there have been floating villages around for ages, and that people have been using houseboats for aquaculture and food production for hundreds if not thousands of years in Asia. The Marsh Arabs lived on floating islands of reeds in the marshes of Iraq until Sadam drained the marshes, creating some 200,000 refugees, many of whom went to Iran. Man-made islands called crannogs were a common feature in Ireland and Scotland from prehistoric times through to the middle ages, and of course there is Venice, which, while not actually floating (in fact it's sinking), was created on mud-flats and is as much a city of water as anything else. And, lest we forget, there are the numerous "river shacks" in bayous and along waterways throughout the Southern United States- home to rednecks, recluses, and probably a few hippies in there too.

So I thought I'd include some photos of some real and imagined floating homes and floating communities- just of all of you out there, who, like me, dream of living in a floating, nomadic home one day.

The Pilkington Sea City- an idea from the seventies.

David Szondy, whose excellent Tales of Future Past I got this photo off, writes,

"In some cases, it would be to artificial islands, such as Pilkington Sea City. Designed in 1971, this city of 30,000 was a totally automated community powered by natural gas, equipped with all sorts of the latest amenities, and where the population made its living by fish farming, marine research, and ballast dredging. Yes, I said ballast dredging. It was supposed to be built on Dogger Bank in the middle of the North Sea-- Probably the daftest development site this side of the Roaring Forties. If you've never sailed through the North Sea in wintertime, consider yourself lucky. It's one of the foulest, coldest, and generally nastiest stretches of water around. The Pilkington people claimed that the city would be perfectly shielded by wave barriers and an enormous wind break that formed the outer wall of the place, but for myself I'd have more confidence in domesticating a Cape Buffalo."

And check out this design for a floating scientific observation vessel, and a smaller design actually built by architect Jacques Rougerie. Check out his website- everything from ocean cities to space stations.

Take a look at the Ocean Arcologies page from with images and photos of architects models of floating cities.

And the University of Delft had bought two islands in Second Life and is using them to develop it's idea for a floating city which can be found on their website

One of the really common activities of actual floating, or semi-floating villages is fishing and aquaculture, as anyone who has visited coastal Asia can attest. Floating salmon farms and oyster farms are a common feature of suitable coastal areas in Europe, North America and Australia as well. This design, by architect Jacques Rougerie, may be the next logical step- the whole structure is meant to be towed into location and 'unfolded'. In addition to being a farm, it would provide lodgings for 6-10 peopele:

For a look at the more vernacular side of floating living take a look at these:

A Marsh Arab village from before Saddam drained the marshes-



Similar Reed Island and Village in Lake Titicaca, Peru

from de:Bild:Insel uros.jpg.

A Floating Village in Vietnam


And Thailand


Another one in Thailand- Sangkhlaburi


A floating fish farm on a floating village in China

from flickr-

A river shack in a bayou


Canal Boats in London- from the blog Ecoboot

Other Blogs of Interest with posts on floating cities

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