Floating architecture and cities have been the dreams of many for decades. In the 1960s, Buckminster Fuller designed an anchored floating city that would be connected to the mainland via bridges. Named Triton and designed for Tokyo Bay, the city is a collection of ‘tetrahedronal’ structures with apartments. Fuller writes in Critical Path:

“Three-quarters of our planet Earth is covered with water, most of which may float organic cities. Floating cities pay no rent to landlords. They are situated on the water, which they desalinate and recirculate in many useful and non-polluting ways. They are ships with an ocean ship's technical autonomy, but they are also ships that will always be anchored. They don't have to go anywhere. Their shape and its human-life accommodations are not compromised, as must be the shape of the living quarters of ships whose hull shapes are constructed so that they may slip, fishlike, at high speed through the water and high seas with maximum economy.”

Originally conceived to provide housing for land-poor countries, and more recently fuelled by evidence of climate change and rising sea levels, the idea of building neighbourhoods and homes in open waters has been entertained time and time again.

Just last year, London designer Thomas Heatherwick teamed up with landscape architect Mathews Nielsen to design a floating park 56 metres off the Hudson River shoreline, joining the ranks of a long list of floating architecture proposals, including a floating ecopolis for climate refugees by Vincent Callebaut Architect, and US architect Kevin Schopfer’s “city within a city” in Boston.

But, not all floating architecture remains a dream. We explore five completed projects from around the world that showcase the possibilities of building and living on water.

Makoko Floating School by NLÉ Architects

Designed as a prototype floating structure, the Makoko Floating School was built for the water community of Makoko, on the lagoon heart of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. It is believed that over 100,000 people currently live in Makoko, which is largely built on stilt structures with only canoes for transportation.

According to NLÉ, the floating building concept was created in response to the challenge of building relatively cheap and reliable foundations that could support larger structures in the muddy and weak topography whilst proving invulnerable to changing tides and water levels.

Recycled empty plastic barrels, which are abundant in the area, was used for the building’s flotation system, which consists of 16 wooden modules, each containing 16 barrels. Once the 100m2 platform was assembled, construction of a10m high A-frame followed, led by a team of eight Makoko-based builders using locally sourced bamboo and wood procured from the local sawmill. The resulting building can safely support up to one hundred adults, even in extreme weather conditions.






The building is currently anchored into a static position, but can be made mobile and move. Find out more HERE.

Photography by Iwan Baan

Brooke St Pier by Circa Morris Nunn

Hobart’s new ferry terminal is a 4,300 tonne concrete pontoon featuring three floors of lightweight superstructure that isn’t connected to land. Rising and falling with the tide, the pier is anchored to the seabed with triangulated stretching ‘bungee’ cables that modify their thrust angles with the changing water levels.

The terminal is also completely self-sufficient, carrying on board all the services and systems it requires to be habitable for users. This includes hydronic heating and cooling systems, which tap into the relatively temperature-constant water – about 12 degrees all year round – so that the structure essentially “floats on concrete and runs on water”.

With a design life of 100 years, the structure can be towed away for use in another location if it is ever made redundant.

Photography by Matt Samsom, Martin Schmidt and Nick Molle

Floating island: Soul Flora by Haeahn Architecture + H Architecture

‘Setbit Sum (Floating Island)‘ is a new cultural centre in Seoul, South Korea for exhibitions and festivals that is located on the Han River. The 9,995sqm centre covers three islands, each with differing themes that seek to change the visitor’s perspective from simply looking at the river, to truly experiencing it.

“It symbolically represents the shape of Seoul as a cultural lamp that spreads out in all directions by embodying an image of the Han River Renaissance, which is regeneration and circulation through a metaphor of a seed, a bud, and a fully bloomed flower,” says Haeahn Architecture.

“Floating Island is a creative work combined with technology and culture that will be remembered as one of the landmarks in Seoul.”

Images: Haeahn Architecture, ArchDaily

The Exbury Egg by PAD Studio, SPUD Group and Stephen Turner

The Exbury egg is an energy efficient, self sustaining work space designed for artist Stephen Turner, who lived in the space and used it as a laboratory for studying the life of a tidal creek, the River Beaulieu in the UK, as well as a collecting and collating centre with storage and display areas. According to Turner, climate change is already creating new shorelines and habitats, and the coastal marshland of the New Forest is under constant threat from global warming and erosion.

“The implications for wildlife and for the flora as well as for people are challenging. Raising awareness of the past and the unfolding present of a very special location will be the task, whist living in an ethical relationship with nature and treading as lightly as possible upon the land,” he said.

Created for a one-year-long temporary inhabitation, the floating wooden pod structure moves up and down with the tide, and houses a bed, desk, small stove and wet room. It was built by a local craftsman, with its potential energy requirements determined by exploring its occupant’s (Turner) anticipated daily routines, and met with solar power.

Photography by Nigel Rigden. Source: ArchDaily

Drijf in Lelystad by Attika Architekten

Drijf in Lelystad, or float in Lelystd, is a collective partnership of eight families who grew up living on water and desired to return to the familiar. They commissioned Attika Architekten to design eight different but matching floating homes in an existing ditch in Urk, a New Town 4.8 metres below sea level and 40km away from Lelystad, the Netherlands

Although at first glance the homes look identical, each actually features a different size, colour and shape. However, coherence is still achieved with matching colours on the facade panels, and their relationship with the water: from unobstructed views to the water and water reflections on the walls and ceilings, each home has direct access to the element they float on.

The houses are constructed in timber frame on concrete caissons, and towed over water to their destination.

Photography by ABC Arkenbouw, Bart van Hoek. Source: Attika