Floating cities may seem like something straight out of science fiction, but the truth is that humans have lived and farmed on floating habitats for centuries.
“We have compiled a list of 64 case studies of floating indigenous communities around the world,” said Julia Watson, professor of design at Harvard University and author of LO-TEK. Design by Radical Indigenism, a book about design lessons we can learn from indigenous cultures. “Plus, these indigenous systems have always been inherently sustainable, which our cities are not currently.”
Examples of floating communities can still be found today, such as the cultivated reed islands of the Uru people on Lake Titicaca, on the border between Bolivia and Peru. Floating gardens are even more common, especially in Bangladesh, where farmers sow seeds on “rafts” of drifting weeds that rise and fall with the floods after the annual monsoons.
Ironically, it was the construction of big cities that led to the disappearance of many of the aquatic dwellings and practices that are touted today as the future of urban life.
“In Europe and China, urban development and the replenishment of wetlands and lakes have unfortunately wiped out many of these technologies,” Watson said.
Back in Amsterdam van Namen rattled through yet another problem when we stood at the end of the main jetty at Waterbuurt and watched one of the residents lead a paddleboard between two floating houses.
“The floating doppelgangers [semi-detached houses] gave us a real headache. Especially at the beginning when one was occupied and the other wasn’t, “he said, a grin already flitting across his face. There were a lot of these doppelgangers that looked a little … unbalanced.” Van Namen held his arm in a 45 -Grad-Winkel to make his point clear before clapping his knees at the memory.