The Maldives recently greenlit the construction of a floating community and a similar development off the coast of South Korea by Bjarke Ingels Group is underway. Are the efforts a realistic bulwark against climate change or merely a sci-fi distraction?



Futurists have long dreamt up outlandish proposals for the utopian future of cities. Yona Friedman imagined Ville Spatiale, a development on stilts that layers over existing urban infrastructure and went on to inspire Moshe Sadie’s trailblazing Habitat 67;

Archigram illustrated the modular, computer-controlled megastructures of Plug-in City; and Buckminster Fuller envisioned the Triton Floating City, an anchored community in Tokyo Bay connected to the mainland via bridges. Each proposal offered an optimistic peek into the metropolis of tomorrow.

The concept of the floating city is vogue again, only now the driving force is more dystopian than utopian. Global sea levels are rising at unprecedented rates, posing an imminent risk to the 40 percent of humanity that lives within 60 miles of a coast.

One logical answer is to move inward, but that may cause mass displacement and the steep environmental toll that comes with land reclamation and deforestation, not to mention the exorbitant cost.

Some architects are toying with the idea of building self-sustaining cities that float in the ocean. One such project, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and currently being developed by the U.S. company Oceanix on the coast of Busan, South Korea, is billed as the “world’s first resilient and sustainable floating community.”

The flashy renderings depict a ring of hexagonal-shaped islands that house 300 people and can be scaled ad infinitum into the sea to accommodate more people.Oceanix City is the brainchild of Polynesian entrepreneur Marc Collins Chen, who came up with the idea while serving as French Polynesia’s minister of tourism in 2007.

He and the self-proclaimed “seavangelist” Joe Quirk originally intended for the network of floating structures to serve as a tax-free enclave for the wealthy, but the approach was publicly reviled and likened to the Galactic Empire secretly building the Death Star.