A Home on the Ocean

A Home on the Ocean - Oceanix City Photo

Around the world, many of our coastal cities have been stretched to their limit. Rising populations have these areas seeking new options for growth with limited resources.

Traditionally, most coastal areas have increased space for development through land reclamation, which involves filling in oceans, seas, riverbeds or lake beds with large amounts of rock, cement, clay and soil, or draining parts of submerged wetlands.

“In the last 30 years there have been around 1,000 square kilometers (621 miles) that have been reclaimed every single year,” said Marc Collins Chen, co-founder and CEO of New York, NY, USA-headquartered Oceanix. “That was okay 400 years ago, maybe even 100 years ago, but now we clearly understand that the areas being reclaimed are usually mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass. All that good stuff that we were just paving over is actually a buffer to extreme weather events and sea-level rise.”

To solve these complex challenges, Oceanix has proposed that the next frontier of building should be by working with water, not filling it in. The design and development company plans to build the world’s first resilient and sustainable floating community, called Oceanix City, that will house 10,000 residents on 75 hectares (185 acres).

The Ocean View

Oceanix has been developing its vision for the future of floating cities with the United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN-Habitat) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Ocean Engineering.

The design that has emerged is storm-resistant hexagonal floating modules that can be towed into position, moored and then connected to form clusters of neighborhoods made up of sustainable housing, workplaces, businesses and recreational facilities. Each city would be able to produce its own water, energy, sewage treatments and waste disposal plants.

“What we're proposing is an alternative to land reclamation that is faster to deploy and is much better for the environment,” says Chen. “Our thesis is that we will actually regenerate marine ecosystems instead of decimating them. What's really interesting is that we've reached an inflection point where we are at cost parity with land reclamation.”

As part of the design process, Chen says one of the major considerations was ensuring there was scalability.

“What's critical is that the design brief, the exact targets that you're aiming for as the developer, are understood by the entire team from the beginning,” Chen said. “There's a lot of up-front work to make sure that it is clear to you and your board regarding what it is you're attempting to build.”

Assembling the Right Experts

One of the most important targets of the project is to ensure Oceanix City has a negative carbon footprint.

To achieve this goal, Oceanix’s floating cities will focus on vertical farming, which requires both energy and water to produce food. They plan to use aquaponics, a technique where the waste produced by farmed fish supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, or aeroponics, which is growing plants in an air or a mist environment without the use of soil.

That attention to every potential opportunity to make the design more sustainable has been one of the key drivers of the efforts.

“You need to be very aggressive on your targets for sustainability,” said Chen. “Once you have targets like that, you have to look at every single piece of the puzzle. That means materials, it means cradle-to-cradle strategy [where waste is reused] and even what you do at the end of life for these structures.”

This goal meant that Chen and Oceanix needed to onboard the right mix of experts from across the sustainability field, including water, energy, food, waste, mobility and habitat regeneration. In addition, this team needed to be able to work through the inevitable trade-offs that would arise between competing needs such as energy and water production.

“Picking the right mix of experts is critical,” said Chen. “When you have something as complex as these systems you can't have, let's say, an energy team that is stuck in a certain way of seeing things.”

Chen believes the design and sustainable commitment of these floating cities will help to drive demand around the world, but he expects the initial interests to be in Africa and Southeast Asia. In Lagos, Nigeria, for example, the lack of land has caused its poorer residents to live in a floating village called Makoko. It is anticipated these floating towns will become an integral part of existing cities on the land.

“Coastal cities are where the jobs are and people want to move back and forth [from sea to land],” said Chen. “You will obviously create your own microeconomy on these floating cities, but you still need that relationship with the land.” 


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