Water-Smart Homes and Cities of the Future

Water-Smart Homes and Cities of the Future

  • Most of the largest cities in the world such as Sydney, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Tokyo are situated near water

  • Seas are now rising an average of 3.2 millimetres per year globally, and are predicted to climb a total of 0.2 to 2.0 meters by 2100 (Scientific American)

  • From 1993 to 2010 thermal expansion added an average of 1.1 milometers of sea level rise per year (International Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Reports)

More alarming still, once you have added the dynamics of warming water and the thawing of land ice to the equation, ocean levels are projected to rise further still.

Building on water could well be one of the most effective and sustainable solutions we can employ to mitigate climate related flooding and overcrowding in cities. More than 70% of the surface of the planet is covered in water. Rises in sea levels will have devastating effects on coastal habitats and unless we take action, the World Bank report estimates that global damage to cities from flooding could amount to $1tn a year by 2050 [1].

The New Mathematics of Architecture

Present-day challenges have brought sustainability to the centre of new design practices. In recent years, architects and city planners from Amsterdam to Lagos have been turning their attentions to building floating houses in a bid to develop flood-resilient designs and reduce inner-city population density.

It’s predominantly architects and urbanists who possess the expertise needed to spearhead this branch of the climate change movement by designing healthier, greener buildings and environments. Creating sustainable buildings that can survive and help decrease the effect of climate change by helping inhabitants harness natural energy and monitor and record sustainability has been a part of the sustainable building narrative for some time now. The LEEDTM (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for ‘excellent green designed buildings’ which is now used in 150 countries worldwide is an example of how the latest designs can help to lower emissions and produce energy.

Some cities are gutsier than others when it comes to design. Amsterdam became one such city out of necessity – more than half of the Netherlands is at or below sea level. Marlies Rohmer, a Dutch architect is the designer of IJBurg - a collection of floating houses built on six artificial islands on IJ Lake in Amsterdam. His project was conceived to deal with the city’s critical housing shortage problem as well as its vulnerability to flooding. It is a mix of expensive waterside condos and social housing, with about 30% of the community’s 18,000 houses allocated to low-income residents. When complete, the development will provide homes for 45,000 residents on 10 islands.

Koen Olthuis, another Dutch architect and head of Waterstudio.NL firmly believes the best solution to adapt to climate change and a fast-expanding urban population is to build cities on water and he’s not the only one. Baca architects in London have proposed mass development housing along London’s canals to help solve the UK’s housing problem. Such a proposition certainly meets the big problem, big solution criteria that has become so representative of the climate change agenda. The UK is surrounded by water and gets plenty of rain, so putting it to good use to overcome a housing shortage certainly sounds like the ingenious solution we are badly in need of.

Having to deal with overcrowded cities and coastal flooding while meeting demands for housing is a uniquely complex problem. Cities such as Tokyo, London and Shanghai are all established near the coast and it is estimated that an average of 150,000 people will move to these cities daily. In London, for instance, it is estimated that 11 million people will reside in the capital by 2050. Accommodating more people will require construction of 600 more schools and 50,000 extra homes every year. Countries in the developing world will have to contend with the added pressure of improving their city infrastructures before they can build new homes to accommodate rapidly increasing populations and prevent deadly floods. An increase in population correlates with an increase in consumption and as a result, the amount of food that will be needed from farmlands 40 years from now will be double the present amount. However, matters are further complicated by the fact that these farmlands and green zones are also required for and are being converted into urban areas to meet the rising demand for housing.

Land subsidence as a result of sea levels rising will ultimately lead to land scarcity. Which then raises the question of how we’re going to meet increased demand for sustainable and affordable housing due to a rising population without compromising farmlands.

Floating Homes to become the Future of Housing

It would seem floating houses are most effective if they are part of a floating community. By creating a high quality, dense urban environment, even at the scale of miniature towns and villages, transportation energy consumption and CO2 could significantly lessen.

The Big Questions

It is still not clear how much work needs to be done for this to be a viable global solution. There are still a lot of questions to be answered. Questions such as what will happen to countries that will inevitably become covered by water in the future? Will the countries submerged by water still have a government? And if what defines a country is…well… land, will they still be considered a country?

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/19/coastal-cities-trillion-floods-2050