Most Influential Projects 2021

24 Maldives Floating City

Maldives Floating City

For boldly shoring up a more resilient future for coastal cities

A floating city might sound like something out of a utopian manifesto. But government leaders in the Maldives are about to make it a reality—an urgent response to the risk of the island country being swallowed by the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts sea levels could rise a half meter (1.6 feet) by 2100, a scenario that would submerge 77 percent of the South Asian archipelago’s land area. 

Launched in partnership with Dutch architecture studio Waterstudio and construction company Dutch Docklands, the massive infrastructure project could serve as a scalable blueprint for other coastal communities.

Maldives Floating City

Slated to be built in a warm-water lagoon just outside of the Maldives’ capital of Malé, the new island city will be powered by renewable energy and provide space for thousands of homes, a hospital, a school and commercial properties. To minimize its impact on the area’s reefs, the city is modeled on the geometric patterns of local coral, with every property facing the water in hexagonal patterns. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2022, with work completed in phases over the next half decade.

Waterstudio co-founder Koen Olthuis talks about what it takes to turn the world’s largest floating structure into a livable city. 

How did you approach the design for this project?
If you’re going to build a floating city, you have to make sure it will be there for the next 100 to 150 years. But you need the ability to adjust the design. Having this modular system made that possible.

Normally you have one floating structure, and you have to stabilize that building. The innovation here is that you make a network—a very large landscape of floating structures that together become rigid in a sense. There’s a controlled flexibility of the whole structure. And that’s really new. This is the largest floating structure in the world, almost a kilometer by 600 meters [3,280 feet by 1,968 feet].

Maldives Floating City

How did the project site inform the design?
The Maldives is a remote country in the middle of the Indian Ocean. If we built in Amsterdam, there are all these construction companies around you. Here you are in the middle of nowhere. So, you have to find a way to plug and play and bring all these elements together, like a Lego system. 

Maldives Floating City

Do you see this project transforming the future of cities?
It will prove that we can build, design and have fantastic livability in a floating city. This will be the benchmark for other cities around the world. 
What I like about this project is that it is the first of a kind. We are not talking about 50 or 100 floating houses, but 5,000 floating houses. The idea of a big city floating can be brought to places like New York, Miami, Tokyo, Shanghai. If you can do it here, with this coral, you can do it in any waterfront coastal city worldwide. 

Every city and country next to the water has to be resilient, has to be working with climate change. We see water as an asset, as an opportunity, as a benefit for the economic systems of these countries and cities. 

Listen to Koen Olthuis reveal how his team is creating a blueprint for coastal cities around the globe.

What I like about this project is that it’s really a first of a kind where we’re not talking about 50 floating houses or 100 floating houses, but 5,000 floating houses so it’s really a floating community. And, of course, it looks very Maldivian in the colors, beaches and roads. But the base idea of a grid city floating can be done, brought to cities like New York, Miami, Tokyo, Shanghai—all the cities that need space and want to expand over water and want to do it in a symbiotic relationship with nature. That’s what we learned here. Because if you can do it here with this coral, you can also do it in front of every wonderful coast city worldwide.

You have to compare this with 150 years ago when we had the first elevators. The elevator made it possible for the city to grow vertically. You could go up two, three stories but never people going to walk five stories up by stair, so there was a limit on the height of cities. Now, Mr. Otis came. He had the technology to create elevators, and we created vertical cities. Of course, then law, rules, regulations had to be adjusted. You build high-rise buildings—is it allowed? How does it effect on the wind, on the climate in the city? But once that was settled, and there was a standardization and there was a benchmark of high-rise buildings, they’ve been spread out all over the world.

It’s exactly the same with these kinds of floating structures. Now we can prove that we can build, design and have a fantastic floating city. This will be the benchmark for all other cities around the world to take advantage of the water opportunity in front of the city.