Oceanix, sustainable floating city: Great expectations or science-fiction?

Updated: Apr 10

How will we live tomorrow? Plenty of people spend their time developing solution which will gradually become reality over the next 10 or so years.

But how will we live the day after tomorrow?

Here's a sneak preview!


Oceanix, the future of sustainable urbanism


It is the declared goal of the UN to limit global warming to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.[1]


One of the likely consequences of a temperature rise above that level is melting ice caps leading to coastal regions becoming submerged.


People would have to move to areas of higher elevation.


A decrease in inhabitable land in times of rising earth population would have most dire social consequences.[2]



Simulation google Earth - New York if the temperatures rise of 2°C and 4°C


By way of mitigating these developments, the UN has explored the possibility of building floating cities to welcome future climate refugees whose lands would have been submerged.


It would also help to decrease population density in big cities.


Various players are developing concepts around this idea and one of them is called OCEANIX by the Bjarke Ingels Group.[3]


Their idea is based around the concept of hexagonal pontoons which would cluster together to form villages and even bigger cities.




Oceanix city – Big Bjarke Ingels group



How many people?


The envisaged prototype will be composed of six groups of six islands clustered together.


It would have a surface of 0.75 km².


That is 1½ times the size of the Vatican City (0.49 km²) and about one third of the size of Monaco (2.1 km²).


One group of six islands would be called a village and is planned to be home to 1650 people over 0.122 km², i.e. 13,525/km².


By comparison, the population density of Hong-Kong is half that (6,777 / km²).[4]


Contrary to building a city on land, an aquatic environment offers another way of finding space for this many people to be housed.


On land, buildings can get taller, on the sea they could also be built under water (e.g. project depth-scraper [5]), similar to the way that 90% of an iceberg's volume is below sea level.




Depthscrapers featured in the November 1931 edition of US magazine Everyday Science and Mechanics


However, according to the Oceanix website no building should be taller than 7 floors.


On the other hand, no mention of the depth of these structures is made.


We shall assume that there has been an error, someone has forgotten a zero somewhere.

How to feed them?


However, the problems don't stop here.


Even assuming the population density to be much lower, the question of how to supply all these people with daily necessities remains.


Which diet?


Obviously, everyone would be vegetarian.


Eating fruits, vegetables and, perhaps, seafood.


3D-printed meat might become a trend by then but for now there is no mention of it.


Farming


Farming is envisaged to be incorporated into these floating cities.



Oceanix sustainable farming [3]


Fruits & vegetables would come from greenhouses spread all over the floating city.


The techniques used to grow fruit and vegetables would be water efficient, such as hydroponic systems [6] where the soil is replaced by a nutrient rich solution and have the advantages:

  • Saving 70-90% of water

  • Not requiring a lot of space

  • The cultures are accelerated and can be harvested all year long.

Proteins would come from seafoods.


The great thing here is that under the city, some mineral structure would help corals to develop. This is important because corals are the nest of our sea-biodiversity, and because of climate change, 90% of them might disappear by 2050.[7]


Drinking water


Drinking water is another issue.


Yes, there's more than enough water around, but it is of course sea water which would have to be desalinated.


Whatever is the process used to do so: supercritical water, membrane, reverse osmosis, etc. they are all very energy intensive.[8]


How is it planned to make up for it to sustain the self-sufficiency claimed in the teaser, [9] we do not know yet.

Who will live there?


Even if the principle of the UN-2030 sustainable goals is to leave no one behind, when we see the world today, we wonder.


The co-founder of Oceanix is Marc Collins Chen and he is on record saying:


“It is our goal to make sure sustainable floating cities are affordable and available to all coastal areas in need.
They should not become a privilege of the rich."

A laudable attitude.


Bjarke Ingels, the main man, sings a slightly more exclusive tune.


"The idea that we are presenting here is not that we will all be living at sea in the future, it won't be waterworld.
This is simply another form of human habitat that can be a seed, that essentially can grow with its success as it turns out to be socially and environmentally desirable to choose this lifestyle."

That sounds very much like a project aimed at those who can afford to have a social and environmental conscience.


We are afraid that Oceanix becomes a new Elysium. Have you seen this movie directed by Neill Blomkamp in 2013?

In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined earth. The order has been established by the same kind of people that rule us today, without concern for the population.





Not a new idea, the more high-brow amongst you might say and refer to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).





Whichever your choice of movie might be, you might think that this is science-fiction but look where we are!


Conclusion


It is too early to judge this project, at present there isn't even a prototype.


However, a closer look in time can save ten later on.


[1] https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-13-climate-action.html (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[2] https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-1280 (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[3] https://oceanix.org/ (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[4] https://www.bycensus2016.gov.hk/data/16bc-main-results.pdf (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/jun/11/unbuilt-tokyo-depthscrapers-and-a-million-person-pyramid (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[6] https://sensorex.com/blog/2019/10/29/hydroponic-systems-explained/ (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[7] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/06/scientists-work-to-save-coral-reefs-climate-change-marine-parks/ (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[8] https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/water/desalination-methods-for-producing-drinking-water/ (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)

[9] https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/dsgsm1269.doc.htm (Last accessed on January 24th, 2021)