Image for Introducing the world’s first floating city

Introducing the world’s first floating city

Construction is underway in the Maldives for a floating city to house 20,000 people – a trailblazing solution to rising sea levels and an overcrowded capital city

Construction is underway in the Maldives for a floating city to house 20,000 people – a trailblazing solution to rising sea levels and an overcrowded capital city

In a turquoise lagoon in the Maldives, a foating city is beginning to take shape. Consisting of houses, restaurants, shops, a school and a hospital, the futuristic feat of architecture opened its first units over the summer and will house 20,000 people by the time it is completed in 2027.

Modelled on the distinctive geometry of the ‘brain coral’ that is common to the Indian Ocean, the sustainable city is being constructed to ease housing pressures in the small island nation, and to provide a liveable future for locals as sea levels rise.

The project has been ten years in the making and is a joint venture between the government of the Maldives and Netherlands-based architecture studio Waterstudio.

“It’s the first example of a nation trying to find new solutions to cope with sea level rises,” Koen Olthius, founder of Waterstudio, told Positive News. “The government’s goal is to turn them from future climate refugees into climate innovators.”

An archipelago of 1,190 low-lying islands, the Maldives is one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change. Eighty per cent of its land area is less than a metre above sea level, which scientists predict will rise by up to a metre by 2100.

The floating city offers new hope to the half a million people who live there. The development is 10 minutes by boat from Malé, the capital of the Maldives, which is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with more than 200,000 people living in an area of just eight square kilometres. The new floating city will provide large, airy, affordable houses for local people, each with its own seafront view and balcony.


It looks idyllic, but the Maldives is far from ideal as sea levels rise. Image: David Mark

“The trickiest thing to figure out was the logistics,” explained Olthius. “The Maldives is just seven kilometres long, and it’s 500 kilometres from India. If you want to build 5,000 houses, where do you get your labour and materials from? Where do you construct them, and how do you do this in a way that there are no emissions in the pristine waters?” 

The modular units were built in a nearby shipyard and towed into the 200-hectare lagoon, where they are tethered to the seabed and linked together in a series of hexagonal-shaped floating structures.

We cannot stop the waves, but we can rise with them

Forty-six per cent of energy use in the Maldives comes from air conditioning, so the city will save energy by pumping cold water from a depth of 700 metres to cool down buildings. Solar panels will provide electricity, and each neighbourhood will have its own sewage treatment plant with waste repurposed as manure for plants.

“This floating city does not require any land reclamation and therefore has a minimal impact on the coral reefs,” claimed Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives from 2008-2012. “What’s more, giant new reefs will be grown to act as water breakers. Our adaption to climate change mustn’t destroy nature, but work with it. In the Maldives we cannot stop the waves, but we can rise with them.” 

Main image: Waterstudio/Dutch Docklands

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