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Floating City

Part 2 Project 2000
Jamie Bromley
Oxford Brookes University, UK

The brief for the project was two-fold: firstly, to explore the effect that scale and hierarchy have on our attitudes to architecture and the city; and secondly, to propose innovative new ways for people to live in the modern capitalist city.

In the light of mankind's exponential technological development, continually pushing the boundaries of our knowledge, we are able to explore and analyse the furthest corners of the universe. What this study suggests is that the new frontier for mankind might be far closer to home. Seventy one percent of our planet's surface is water. Living on this planet successfully in future will undoubtedly involve an far more intricate understanding of the potential of our oceans. Hence the project consists of a design for a floating city as a preliminary investigation of our ability to adapt to and successfully inhabit the oceans, with the view of maybe one day alleviating the pressure on land and the damage to its fragile ecosystems.

The technology and experience are already well established for the creation of artificial islands. Far from being a monastic-style retreat into the past, this new type of city would have to embrace adavanced technology to survive. Resources such as food, power, and above all space, are abundant in the oceans; however, they are themselves part of equally delicate ecosystems. Any development on open water would also be subject to scrupulous ecological considerations, paramount for any development in this age. This city was conceived as an opportunity to implement a kind of break from our present, resource-squandering consumer society. An integral part of this new beginning is rooted in collective ideas for controlling capitalism, ensuring that the city could never fall into the hands of faceless multi-national corporations. The economy of the city needs to remain at a intermediate scale, returning money to its proper role as the servant of productive and consumptive activity.

The linear form of the city follows a natural fault line of divergent tectonic plates that are located in the Pacific Ocean to the east of the Philippines, above the so-calleld 'ring of fire'. The city is essentially a semi-submersed, buoyant, tethered megastructure that is anchored to the seabed and positioned above hydrothermal vents, which supply energy to the city in the form of super-heated water. The dynamic behaviour of the mega-structure is similar to an inverted multifilar pendulum, where excess buoyancy plays the roll of gravity and the megastructure is held level by the pantograph-like configuration of the tension legs. The air-deck accommodation (everything above sea level) comprises of a grid system of high-density individual towers, 8 metres by 8 metres, with 5 metres of separation between them. Organized around central courtyards and market places, the intention is for the clustered towers to provide maximum three-dimensional permeability to pedestrians as well as cooling ocean breezes and light. In contrast to the scale, mass and inertia of the megastructure below, the urban experience of the air-deck towers helps to create a smaller, more human scale.

The towers are constructed from tensile, lightweight, self-assembly component systems, reflecting in their design a fusion of external and internal space, and an overlap of spatial definition made possible by the tropical location. For these tensile structures, certain solutions have been developed that would be unique to the floating city, including sea kelp cold-wall cladding systems and sea kelp particleboards. The result is a city that would be dramatically unlike any other. The streetscapes of myriad kelp cladding systems would glisten in the sunlight as the buildings were kept cool, drenched in nutrient-rich chilled sea water that has been retrieved from the depths of the ocean. Large one-off structures are dotted throughout the city grid, and a multi-level research institution plus university would form the economic hub for the development of marine-based technological studies. Sites for open-air markets, or for relaxing in parks and beaches, would be appended as demanded by the city's inhabitants. Food and sources of kelp for construction would be grown in floating fields located either to the side or underneath the main megastructure.

What I want to ask through this project is quite direct. Dare we assume that our land resources will sustain us in the future? Dare we even imagine that all of our land will exist, given potential climatic changes ? The evidence is convincing in favour of the massive resources and opportunities that the oceans represent for our future. The proposal here suggests hundreds of thousands of people inhabiting 1.5 square kilometres of ocean; that is 1.5 square kilometres out of a possible 360,000,000 square kilometres that are available.

Jamie Bromley


Jamie's project for a protoype floating city achieves that rare quality of being both highly idealised and seriously pragmatic. His solution to the problems of population explosion and land scarcity is to construct enormous urban centres which can float on the three-fifths of the earth's surface that is covered with ocean. These new cities can also take advantage of the incredible thermal currents that are created by underwater volcanoes at the fissures in tectonic plates, providing abundant and constantly replenishable energy. Jamie's vision is for a dense complex city that combines the structural advantages of giant oil-platforms and no-nonsense urban grids, and yet mixes these with all the chaos and dramatic incident offered by high density living. What is described is a kind of floating Manhattan or Hong Kong, but with a far more ecological bent. Anyone who has been to Iceland will know of the benefits of super-abundant geothermal power - low costs, no pollution, endlessly replenishible resources, fuel consumption without guilt. Jamie pushes the ecological angle even further in his scheme. Housing blocks are formed out of timber and seaweed cladding panels, marine research institutes and the like are inserted into the interstices of the floating platform, and beaches and ancillary agricultural elements float casually off the main organisational diagram to supply the city with what it needs.

What makes this project so stunning is not simply the bold return to the notion that architects ought to be involved in devising speculative, visionary projects for future cities, but also the way in which he has used such an extensive ranges of media and modes of study to investigate the proposition. Not for him the self-absorbed drawn images of current academic orthodoxy. Jamie made instead a series of breathtaking balsa models of all aspects of the project, with near-human sized intricate models for the research institute which filled everyone who saw them with awe and wonder. Then there were his mock-ups of real seaweed construction panels, and the interior lighting studies. And the exquisitely rendered computer animations which gave an epic, cinematic quality to the proposal. All these modes of investigation and expression were developed right from the start of the design process, and co-existed happily throughout. They gave a richness to the scheme that few student designs can match. We could argue all day about the potential feasibility or infeasibility of innovative urban models. Perhaps what is more important is the desire to think our way towards new solutions, and to suggest that there are a range of aesthetics and new types of space that might conceivably be better than those we have already.

• Page Hits: 4700         • Entry Date: 09 February 2000         • Last Update: 10 May 2001