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Architects Plan To Save Urban Wildlife With A Floating Nature Tower

We spoke to Waterstudio co-founder Koen Olthuis about his ambitious plan to build floating wildlife preserves inside major cities.

by Joost Mollen
11 September 2014, 3:20pm

This article originally appeared on The Creators Project Netherlands. Images via [via needs hyperlink]

Finding affordable living spaces in big cities can be disastrous. Given unprecedented immigration rates, many major cities are faced with serious housing problems. In the last three years, for example, NYC gained 216,000 new residents but only 22,000 new housing units. And not only are people encountering this spatial problem—nature is having an equally hard time bearing the weight. Both urbanization and climate change put significant pressure on the space available for public parks and natural spaces within urban regions, and while cities have put their efforts towards expanding the amount of available living units, there has been little done to create new green zones.

According to Dutch architectural firm, Waterstudio, the ultimate solution for his problem lies on water. Specialists in the field of ‘floating architecture,’—the masterminds behind the ice hotel in Norway as well as this stylish floating villa—Waterstudio wants to build a ‘skyscraper’ on water, one specially designed for animals and plants in urban regions. Known as the Sea Tree, it is the first floating structure designed to give a much-needed boost to ecological systems within big cities. As the structure is ‘nature only,’ relaxing on top of the Sea Tree is a no-go. Still, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem: just looking at the eco-tower in full swing will be a unique enough experience.

Waterstudio lead designer and co-founder Koen Olthuis took the time to tell us more about the new project, and the future of floating, "green" architecture:

The Creators Project: Can you tell me where your fascination with water originates from?

Koen Olthuis: Most of the innovation on land has been done already. As an architect. you put some color on the walls and shape your building in an interesting way and that’s about it. The truly innovative possibilities are found on water. We’ve been the first architectural firm that focuses all our effort towards water. After a while we thought to ourselves: we shouldn’t limit our approach to floating living units alone.  We started doing research on how we can improve the city with floating concepts. We are now developing floating parking spaces, floating stadiums and, recently, the Sea Tree, a construction that will have a huge positive effect on the ecology of a city. What we built is "free of scars" since you can simply boat our structures away when they are no longer needed. We simply borrow nature’s space and return it the way it was.

How did the concept for the Sea Tree come about?

We got a request from a group of ecologists to design a place for nature, where humans couldn’t disturb it. Based on existing technology used by the oil companies, we decided to stack all the city’s park spaces on top of each other in the shape of a tree, thus creating the concept for the Sea Tree. The best thing to compare the Sea Tree with is the Red Bull cars you see driving around the city. As those are riding advertisements, the Sea Tree is doing the same thing: it’s one huge and floating green advertisement for the city and the technique of the oil companies. It shows that their technology can actually have a positive effect on our nature as our city. The oil company holds ownership of the Sea Tree and the city shall designate the floating location.

How did the oil companies and cities react to this concept? Can we actually expect a real Sea tree soon?

The city locations aren’t a problem. We went to Singapore and New York and everybody was super excited. In addition, the technology already exists. The point is, the construction of the Sea Tree will cost approximately one to two million dollars. So for the money, we need the oil company’s participation. There are two kinds of teams working at those companies: you have the science department people who absolutely love it and you have the people controlling the budgets and doing the marketing. They need to know exactly what the positive and negative sides are to this venture, but since it’s such an innovative project it’s really hard to estimate that effect. That’s something we are working on now. I’m positive we can have that covered in a year’s time after which we hope to find a willing financial partner. After that, the construction time will only cost four to six months. It’s actually nothing more than a floating concrete construction where we let nature run its course.

If the Sea Tree finally becomes reality, what will it look like? Can we expect it in more cities?

Nature’s resilience is amazing. The idea is that we cover the tower with fertile soil and then simply take our hands off of it and let nature do its thing. That’s the exciting part: to see what kind of effect such a green enclave will have. It could provide a home for the declining bee populations, for example, or house birds for whom there is no space in the city. The only two factors that are stopping us from building a Sea Tree now is a permit and money. We’re confident we can realize both in the nearby future.

The Sea Tree is closed for the public. What are the benefits for the people, besides the ecological gain?

Well, I can imagine if you live in a city with a Sea Tree it would be an extremely fun building to look at, or sail around it. It will probably look pretty big as well on the water, even though with a height of [about 115ft], it wouldn’t be that big in the city. But the open water puts it in different perspective. What’s important to us is that this isn’t just a gimmick, like that huge floating duck traveling the world. We want to have an effect on the environment.

You are very concerned with finding a place for nature’s ecosystem in the city. What do you think a concept like the Sea Tree says about the way we as humans are steering nature in a particular direction? Is the Sea Tree the solution to finding a spot for nature in a rapidly urbanizing world?

Solution, no, the effect of the Sea Tree is too small for that. If you actually want the Sea Tree to have an effect, you shouldn’t put one, but thirty or forty Sea Trees in the water. We looked at that option in New York now. I think the most important aspect of the Sea Tree is that it provides a clear direction of where we should go. In the long term, I don’t believe the entire world will one day be populated with Sea Trees, but it does trigger people to think about the possibilities of giving nature a place on water, like big floating parks or floating agriculture. The Sea Tree symbolizes the first step in that direction. It’s a huge green billboard that’s more than simply just a message: it actually has an effect on nature in a positive way. In my eyes, that’s beautiful.

To learn more about the Sea Tree, visit Waterstudio online

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