Waterworld may no longer be a sci-fi scenario

The United Nations has recently approved a project called “Oceanix City”, which develops a floating city for the seas off Busan in South Korea to pioneer a new mode of living amid sea-level rises. Let’s give an overview.

OCEANIX/BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

On 18th November of this year, the city government of Busan signed an agreement with Oceanix, a company founded by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels Group, and UN-Habitat, to develop a new concept of an off-shore city located several kilometers from the South Korean town, located at the extreme south-east of the peninsula. Although the sea is relatively calm in Busan, the city was harshly hit by typhoons over the last decade, as Chaba, which caused flooding in 2016, and Kong-Rey, which provoked repetitive power failures in 2018 (55 000 in total).

The aim of the project is to build a town that would be fully autonomous and eco-friendly. Construction should start in 2022 and last three years in total: “We are planning to welcome our first inhabitants in 2025”, says Itai Madamombe, co-founder of Oceanix, who informs us that her company is in talks with at least ten other governments about building more floating cities. “The initial concept will remain unchanged, but each town’s construction will be adapted to their own economic, cultural and social context.”

The platforms will be anchored about 1.6 kilometers away from the Korean coast to reefs made of “biorock”, a natural material made by underwater minerals that are exposed to electric current and which strengthens over time. All the town’s platforms are linked together. Buildings will be entirely dismountable and made of durable material, such as bamboo or wood. They will be limited to seven floors’ height to keep a low center of gravity. Water -whether it is drinkable or not – will be provided through rainwater harvesting, desalination, or atmospheric air (through a process of condensation and filtration). No car will be allowed: people will have to use bicycles or electric-powered boats. Drones will enable freight transport. Waste will be transported through pneumatic tubes towards a waste recovery facility, where it will be recycled and reused.

A real “shipping agriculture” will enable to feed inhabitants, with cages located under the platforms to breed St James shells and other seafood or aquaponic farms to fertilize plants. Adjacent inhabited islands will be dedicated to the production of food or power generation (for instance, with solar panels).

As regards the city, it will be divided into “villages” of six hexagons each. The area of each platform is 20.000 square meters, and it will welcome up to 300 residents, but this number may increase over time: “in the coming months, we will discuss along with the town council and our shareholders to determine how many residents will be hosted in the city”, says Itai Madamombe.

There have been numerous projects of floating towns, but none of these projects have been so far successfully implemented. So, what explains the development of Oceanix City at that moment and place?

The presence of typhoons in South Korea is not the only explanation. According to the cofounder of Oceanix, Itai Madamombe, “Busan was the best place to build the prototype city because it was home to one of the world’s busiest ports, so local builders and engineers have experience of building along the water.” Also, people have become gradually aware of the dangers linked to rising water levels. As the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, explains: “cities are increasingly at risk of flooding. In Bangkok, the ground on which some parts of the city stands is sinking by around two centimeters every year, according to some estimates, while sea levels in the Gulf of Thailand are rising.”

OCEANIX/ BIG- Bjarke Ingels Group

Contrary to projects consisting in creating artificial islands for billionaires, Oceanix City is intended for the most vulnerable populations to rising water levels in the first place and who, according to the startup, “cannot afford a high rent in town.” However, the executive director of UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, informs us that work is still ongoing “to determine who the residents will be and how they will be selected”.

In Busan, startup Oceanix’ team will collaborate with local designers to tailor the prototype to the local environment. Oceanix plans to unveil the results of those efforts at a second UN roundtable in April 2022. After that, the team would start engineering the platforms and working its way through the approval process. The cost of the project is expected to reach $200 million, but no investment has yet been received.

Yvan Barbeau

Sources:
Global Construction Review: South Korea plans to host world’s first floating city by 2025.
Futura Planète: L’ONU veut construire une ville flottante autonome et écologique.
L’édition du soir: Voici à quoi va ressembler Oceanix, la première ville flottante et durable contre la montée des eaux.

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