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The World’s First True Floating Island City Could Reimagine Survival

maldives floating city

Maldives Floating City/Handout

  • The Government of the Maldives revealed plans for the world’s first true floating island city, which will begin construction in 2022.
  • Maldives Floating City (MFC) is made up of honeycomb-like hexagonal maze rows.
  • As MFC floats up top, island barriers around the lagoon will act as breakers below the city.

    Last month, government officials in the island nation of the Maldives officially unveiled plans to build the first fully floating island city of its kind. Could the ambitious experiment be a blueprint for how we’ll live in the future as climate change continues to raise the global sea level?

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    As “arguably the lowest-lying country in the world,” according to NASA—the average elevation is just 3.3 feet above sea level—the Maldives, an island republic in the northern Indian Ocean, will soon have to rely on sustainable housing. In virtually any simulation of the near future, the over 1,000 individual islands that make up the Maldives will be some of the first to disappear below the rising sea level.

    Enter the floating city, appropriately called Maldives Floating City (MFC), which will be built in a lagoon just minutes from Male, the capital of the Maldives. MFC’s designers—the Netherlands-based Dutch Docklands, the global leader in floating infrastructure—say the floating city’s shape, a series of honeycomb-like hexagonal maze rows, is supposed to resemble coral.

    The system of floating rows is anchored to a ring of islands that form the base and also the stabilizing breaker wall for all the structures—the primary reason for placing MFC in an ideally suited small lagoon. More from the press release:

    While MFC floats up top, island barriers around the lagoon will serve as breakers down below. This ingenious configuration lessens the impact of lagoon waves while stabilizing the structures and complexes on the surface.

    The whole city is about three-quarters of a square mile, or 200 hectares, with low-slung residential buildings and commercial amenities built on separate structures. The designers say the MFC complex hearkens back to the history of seafaring culture and local architecture in the Maldives.

    maldives floating city

    Maldives Floating City/Handout

    Thousands of homes will float on the hexagonal coral clusters, starting at $250,000 for about 1,000 square feet, plus a roof terrace. While that price point isn’t laughably low, it’s perfectly reasonable for the context of an island vacation wonderland.

    It’s easy to imagine these units filling up as people’s winter homes, but hopefully there will be some locals in the mix as well. In the press release touting MFC, the designers say their goal is to have local traditional fishing families live in the floating city. It’s not clear if the $250,000 price point is realistic for these families, or if there will be subsidized housing.

    maldives floating city

    Maldives Floating City/Handout

    If the idea of a modular floating city makes you think of, say, Waterworld, you’re not alone. There are also traditional floating cities scattered around the world, and the Maldiveans are careful to say theirs is the first to combine the housing and other structures in this particular way, surrounded by a barrier lagoon and with an array of amenities.

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    The floating city will break, uh, sea in 2022. Eventually, the complex will include those thousands of homes, plenty of commercial space for stores and necessaries, and a hospital and school for locals to use. While the complex is anchored to the barrier islands, this will likely be a modular connection that can be extended as the sea level rises—perhaps even submerging the barrier islands in the future.

    If MFC succeeds, the officials are likely right that it will be influential around the world. While inland territories have a lot more time to avoid the most literal effects of the rising sea level, the Maldives’ peer island nations like Nauru or Micronesia will have to act quickly to preserve their territories and cultures.

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