The Age of Humans The Age of Humans

10 Architectural Schemes That Could Help Us Adapt To Rising Seas

From a floating house to a mobile city shaped like a giant lilypad, designers offer up some wild solutions for a wetter future

Universal Studios in Hollywood has a stunt show and set inspired by the 1995 film Waterworld. (Courtesy of Flickr user William Warby)
smithsonian.com

We dream of drowning cities. Popular culture is overflowing with depressing yet strangely romantic images of our future waterworld—from books like The Drowned World to films like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. We’re drawn to works that dramatize the effects of climate change, perhaps because we take some glee in seeing how bad it can get.

This morbid fascination with environmental catastrophe has invaded the zeitgeist for good reason. Ice caps are melting faster than ever, while hurricanes and tsunamis seem to strike with growing frequency and severity. The sea level is rising at an increasingly rapid rate, promising to dramatically reshape our continents, and the lives of the millions of people who live along the coasts. In short, science fiction is threatening to become science fact.

But for some architects, planners and designers, the prospect of a drowned world is inspiring—a call to action to preemptively develop possible solutions. Humans have been changing the environment for the worse, but we have the technology and capability to dramatically improve it—to purposely alter the environment by designing new buildings and changing cities. The following architectural schemes offer solutions for living with water, whether it be in a single community, in a wide flood zone or in a drastically flooded world.

Water-Based Urban Development, by DeltaSync

DeltaSync is a Dutch firm specializing in floating urbanism. Last spring, the interdisciplinary design consultancy completed a year-long feasibility study (pdf) for the Seasteading Institute, exploring the possibility of building “the first floating city with political autonomy” by 2020. DeltaSync’s design uses foam and steel hexagon-shaped islands that can be joined together like Settlers of Catan tiles to form a variety of urban designs. If your seastead isn’t working out as you had planned, just move a few tiles. The DeltaSync proposal is most noteworthy for its in-depth, 100-plus page report exploring the practical issues, such as ideal community size, operating expenses and income generation, that need to be addressed for such a community to prosper.

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