A proposed floating city off the coast of Busan, South Korea, is designed to expand to accommodate up to 100,000 residents.
As coastal cities are threatened by climate change, the United Nations is supporting this prototype floating city with hopes it can help solve habitat issues
BIG design includes interconnected floating platforms, each with a specific purpose.
Feel free to bicker about the name floating city vs. floating district, but for the 12,000 people expected to live on a floating pontoon design off the coast of Buson, South Korea, the project continuing to move forward may provide the first real prototype of a sustainable floating city. This concept could combat growing sea level rise—think at least another foot in the next 30 years—that encroaches on coastal communities, increases flooding risks and challenges current coastline infrastructure.
Originally sailed as an idea in 2019, the project took another step forward in 2022 with the reveal of more designs from New York-based blue tech company Oceanix, architecture firms Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and SAMOO, and with the backing of both the United Nations-Habitat group and the city of Busan.
“We are on track to delivering Oceanix Busan and demonstrating that floating infrastructure can create new land for coastal cities looking for sustainable ways to expand onto the ocean, while adapting to sea level rise,” says Philipp Hofmann, Oceanix CEO.
The concept of moving residents of megacities onto floating structures first surfaced with the Tokyo Bay Plan in the 1960s. From there we’ve seen pitches that include floating homes for refugees, deep-ocean nations, and plenty of coastal communities. Oceanix Busan offers a sustainable floating community, with 15 acres hosting a community of 12,000. And that’s just a beginning; it has the potential for continuing expansion all the way to 100,000 residents, if all goes well.
The MIT Center for Ocean Engineering was part of a larger group working with Oceanix on the concept, first presented at a United Nations roundtable panel in 2019. After that time, Busan signed on as the host location, and the designs of the hexagonal platforms kept developing. Now they’re at the ideal point to take off—all parties believe this project will move forward.
From mixed-use programs to lodging, each of the three platforms supports neighborhoods focused on a particular purpose. The pontoon-based floating platforms connect to the land with link-span bridges and can anchor to the ocean floor, akin to floating bridges seen in Washington state. They also frame the sheltered lagoon for recreation.
Part of the sustainable nature of the plan includes photovoltaic panels—both on the low-rise buildings and floating near the neighborhoods—and greenhouses that can easily expand and contract to meet the food needs of residents. Integrated systems include zero waste, a closed-loop water system that doesn’t drain the resources of neighboring Busan and its 3 million-plus residents, net-zero energy, and food creation.
Oceanix claims the floating district’s systems generate 100 percent of the required operational energy through the photovoltaic panels. Each neighborhood will treat and replenish its own water, reduce and recycle resources, and provide urban agriculture.
“In designing a solution for the most vulnerable coastal locations on the frontlines of climate change, Oceanix’s new modular maritime neighborhoods will be a prototype for sustainable communities informed by Busan’s unique juxtaposition of old and new,” says Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG. “Creating a connection between the city and the seaside, Oceanix Busan will expand this spirit onto the waterfront.”
The UN-Habitat group believes in the concept. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat director, says the world can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s tools, and the drive for innovation is key. Taking an entire city and floating it off the coast sure does fall under leaving yesterday’s tools and looking to the future of innovation.
Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews have included sit-downs with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.