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5 Ways Architecture Can Respond To Rising Sea Levels

With water levels set to rise, how will buildings adapt to this changing environment? Here’s a roundup of some innovative solutions.

If we take the opinion of most scientists who believe that global warming is the greatest threat to our planet, then one of the many problems that will accompany this catastrophe is a rise in sea levels due to the melting polar ice caps. Coastal cities and towns are obviously the ones under the greatest threat but so are low-lying lands. We could be saying goodbye to the Netherlands as we know it. So, unless our next evolutionary step is to grow gills then we’re going to have to face up to the facts and find new ways to live within our watery environment.


Before we all run for the hills there are ways that architecture can integrate the design of buildings into their aquatic surroundings, giving us the possibility of living with this new world. So, with that in mind, lets take a look at some potential architectural solutions.

The Citadel

Dutch firm have a whole series of floating projects that look at placing buildings on top of water—floating structures could be a way to overcome the problem of rising sea levels. have designed hotels and artificial islands and also a floating apartment complex called the Citadel (above). With a realization date of 2014 the complex will be built on the flooded wetlands of the Netherlands and will feature 60 luxury apartments with parking spaces and even a floating road to access it, plus docks for boats.

Tōhoku Sky Village

Sako Architects

have come up with a solution for homes under threat from tsunamis, by creating elevated islands on land in a three tier structure. Groups of these islands could form entire towns with commercial and residential islands catering for different needs and power coming off-grid so they’re self-sustained. These are already being considered for the Tohoku region of Japan, but they could also prove a solution for the effects of rising sea levels. What’s even better is that they have a lifespan of 200 years.

Underwater Hotels

As well as living above the water and on it, you can also construct under it. Jule’s Undersea Lodge, who don’t seem to have updated their website since 1998, is an underwater motel in Key Largo, Florida. Rather than being purpose-built, the motel is a converted marine lab 21ft underwater with two bedrooms and a bathroom. On a more ambitious scale is Poseidon Undersea Resorts (above), a luxury underwater hotel built in Fiji, 40ft below on the sea bed. It was due to open in 2008 but, according to Wikipedia, construction is ongoing.


Architectural Membrane

The university of Pennsylvania’s Tingwei Xu and Xie Zhang came up with a unique solution to the threat of the sea encroaching upon New York. The solution is for low-lying areas to be covered in a flexible, intelligent membrane which can provide waterproofing, lighting, and agricultural planting. When it rains the membrane can soak up water and prevent flooding, then use this to germinate plant life, acting as a soil substitute. With the lattice-like structure allowing light to come in, the plant life could act as a further barrier to the threat of flooding from the sea.

Synthetic Biology

Currently the floating city of Venice is sinking and its buildings are eroding due to it it being built on soft delta mud. One solution to this, proposed by Dr. Rachel Armstrong in her Future Venice project, is to create an artificial limestone reef by releasing oil droplets into the water which are chemically programmed to react with carbon dioxide and create a reef. This idea of living materials that react and respond using a chemical language could create “living” buildings that can adapt to meet their changing environments. These dynamic structures could respond to climate change and rising sea levels while coming up with novel solutions.