Cities of the Future: Floating Cities

lilypad-floating-city-06One of the biggest problems facing the ever-growing population of Earth and the subsequent expansion of our cities and settlements is the increasing value of land. I’m not just talking about the monetary value of land, I’m talking about its intrinsic value as a natural resource. Finding new land to build upon is likely to become very difficult in the future, especially if the population continues to grow at such an alarming rate.

While there are still many areas of the Earth’s surface that mankind has yet to develop for its own purposes (Alaska, Northern Canada, Siberia and Kamchatka, Antarctica and the world’s many deserts), the same cannot be said for fertile areas and areas with temperate climates. Agriculture and food production are certain to become a mounting concern as our population continues to grow, and the fragility of the planet’s ecosystem is now such that no area of land can be considered dispensable enough to sacrifice to the concrete jungle without first considering the impact this will have on the sustainability of “Spaceship Earth“.

So, if we need valuable land for agriculture, industry, carbon capture, oxygen generation and the protection of natural resources, where are we to build our homes? Well, the modern propensity to build vertically does provide a partial solution to this problem, although the effects aren’t always desirable. Tower blocks needn’t be the only answer; it is possible that as well as expanding our settlements into the sky, we might also expand outward onto the oceans. This could be done by constructing enormous floating cities.

While the idea of building gigantic floating cities might strike you as a somewhat unrealistic idea at first, the building of floating cities seems positively practical when compared to such science fiction ideas as cities in space, underwater cities, colonizing the moon, and draining the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, floating cities could be quite simple in design, using the simple principle of buoyancy to stay afloat. These cities would also have the additional advantages of being potentially mobile, having increased earthquake resistance (although they would still be vulnerable to tsunamis), ease of quarantine in case of a dangerous epidemic (or zombie attack), better access to underwater resources (such as oil and gas) and – when placed in tidal areas and river estuaries – the ability to harness hydroelectric power. Of course, the disadvantages of building floating cities are also numerous, including issues with logistics and supply, and with inter-city transportation, but building our cities at sea would certainly help us free up more land for our vital ecological and agricultural needs.

Floating cities

Mobile Cities

One of the most fascinating possibilities presented by floating cities is that they might be able to move about the ocean. While this type of city might sound more like a gigantic cruise ship, moving about the world for the pleasure of its inhabitants, such cities could have a much more practical purpose. In 1964, British architect Ron Herron proposed building massive mobile robotic structures, with their own intelligence, that could freely roam the world, moving to wherever their resources or manufacturing abilities were needed. He called these structures “walking cities“. Various walking cities could interconnect with each other to form larger “walking metropolises” when needed, and then disperse when their combined functionality was no longer needed. While the idea of an enormous seagoing automated manufactory sounds a little far-fetched in the post-industrial world, it’s not too difficult to imagine floating cities specializing in a particular industry or service, and thus being required to move to (or between) certain locations to fulfill their function as and when they are needed, just as some oil platforms do today.

Of course, that’s not to say that a floating city could not exist simply for the pleasure of its residents. In fact, the late 1990’s saw just such an idea come to light in the form of the “Freedom Ship” (pictured below). The Freedom Ship  was conceptualized as a luxury seafaring vessel built to accommodate 50,000 people. The vessel would be so large that its top deck would feature its own international airport. The Freedom Ship would circumnavigate the globe continuously, stopping at several ports of call.

Freedom ship

The Lilypad

Another example of an existing floating city concept is the “Lilypad” (pictured below). Designed by Vincent Callebaut, the Lilypad is a proposal for a completely self-sufficient floating city intended to provide shelter for future climate change refugees. Apart from its striking design, the Lilypad is also exceptional in that it has been designed with environmental sustainability at its heart. As well as providing sustainable living for 50,000 people (generating energy through solar wind, and tidal power, and growing fresh produce aboard), the city would actually benefit the Earth’s atmosphere by producing oxygen and reducing CO2.


  • Gabriel

    Although a great idea in its own, I think what has put a hold on such projects, price set-aside, is the issue of mobility.
    Straightforward thinking is enough to realize that “mobile” cities not only waste energy while remaining mobile. They raise new challenges that societies as a whole are not yet ready to face.

    Take as an example the “Freedom” ship. What country owns the ship, what flag does it carry and what is the citizenship of its inhabitants? Is it a country of its own? Who can come aboard, everyone? Who controls travelers traffic to ensure no smugglers, terrorists and refugees take a hitchhike and move to new countries?

    Moored structures that need to be moved only in case of natural or political disaster may be a good answer. Hydroponic farmlands on upper decks and marine farms on lower decks will save lots of natural land that would otherwise turn into sterile chemical-based soils. Waste recycling is possible even today and I see no reason why all this will not happen. We just have to use the marine space wisely. Don’t forget that covering a large portion of the sea with those structure is another problem: These portions will not receive enough light and algal growth will be hampered. Floating “towers” would be necessary at some time in the future.

    • The issue of the freedom ship’s sovereignty is actually one of the reasons people want to build it. It might act as it’s own micro-nation, although the same issues exist with modern cruise ships (allowing them to treat their staff like slaves).

      Have you heard of The Principality of Sealand? It doesn’t float, but it is an independent nation.