The floating houses primer

If the ambitious Maldives Floating City is able to deliver as promised it could transform the Maldivian way of living.

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When floating houses were first announced in the Maldives, the public were skeptical. They were rightfully so, as most environmentally friendly plans initiated by former President Mohamed Nasheed such as carbon neutrality, the Gulhi Falhu Wind Farms and such, have not borne fruit. Yet, regardless of all the pomp and circumstance, floating housing is not an alien concept elsewhere in the world.

How it works

A floating house is different from a houseboat, in the way that they do not manoeuvre over water like a houseboat could. They are built entirely for stationary residency, albeit off of solid ground, and would include all the utilities and conveniences of a house on terra firma. Floating houses have been developed over the past two decades — since the innovative ‘Floating Dutchman’ Koen Olthuis claimed that name for himself in 2004 — and the plan had been brought to the Maldives since 2015 as well. The technology has evolved enough to be an actionable, and preferable, real estate option for places similar to the Maldives.

In its most simplest form, it is basically a house set upon a platform which is placed upon pontoons. The pontoons, either made of steel or a highly durable plastic, floats, and works together with the platform to displace the water below. A secondary design is how specially-designed and moulded concrete is made into an overturned bowl shape, and Styrofoam is stuffed into the cavity within. 

The buoyant base allows the housing structure to constantly be on water level, to rise with it and to go down as well. It is either anchored permanently into the seabed — in a lagoon where it is shallow enough to be applicable — or tethered to a docking structure to keep it in place. Unlike boats and how they roll beside the harbour, the mooring is designed to allow stability and flexibility. 

As for infrastructure, the sewage and waste management would be handled sustainably. The waste management systems in floating homes aim to convert waste into energy as much as possible, or even reused for agriculture where possible. Most modern-day floating houses are designed with rooftop garden terraces, even with smaller, more compact designs, and this could be included in the flow of energy within the household.

The Maldivian approach

The Maldives Floating City is not the first floating residence concept brought to these shores. The first ever 18-hole floating golf course had already been pinned on the board, alongside floating villas by Amillarah. The difference here is how the MFC is aimed for the locals and equally for foreign investors to make their permanent homes in the lagoon complex. 

The MFC is a joint effort by the government and Dutch Docklands, working with their architectural studio Waterstudio, and also most recently announced construction partner Bison, a Maldivian construction company. By utilising the latest of cutting-edge technology and complete logistical and technical expertise of a company that has been working on successful projects around the world, MFC promises to raise the bar.

They have reportedly developed an urban-grid design to make a complex interconnected floating city, with all necessary utilities and services available. The city would include shopping complexes and other service providers, as well as a hospital, school, and commercial buildings, completed over the next half-decade in phases. Every residence will be sea-front, with individual units sized from 100 square meters upwards — plus a 40 square meters roof terrace.

Environmental impact

A common argument is how such an invasive concept utilises open water bodies and would affect the flow of water and biodiversity; yet the findings have proven otherwise. Noorderhaven in the Netherlands have recently been subject to underwater drone surveys to observe whether their construction has negatively affected the ecosystem, only to show “the existence of a dynamic and diverse aquatic habitat in the vicinity of these structures, showing that floating structures can have a positive effect on the aquatic environment”.

In the Maldives, the MFC would be built within a lagoon surrounded by coral islands, with hexagonal arrangements to facilitate proper water flow. The anchorage points below the floating complexes would serve as breakwaters, as well as structures upon which corals can be propagated. There will be care taken reportedly to avoid eutrophication and stagnation, and the proper waste management planned for this, if applied, would ensure minimal pollution of the area as well.

An empty promise or a step in the right direction?

The majority of the Maldives’ inhabitable area is either at or barely a metre above sea level. The capital city with roughly 200,000 inhabitants is filled to bursting, constantly vying for living spaces and cheaper accommodation. With so much dependancy on the sea due to culture and also the main economic activities, it is no wonder that the people may one day look to the seas for solutions and sustainability.

If the MFC is built by the end of Ramazn as was announced, then the precedent is set for more investments in this field. Within the decade, the floating house concept has the potential to spill over all income brackets, if the government does not insist on upholding extreme premiums, and could transform the culture of every day life.

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