7 Surprising Facts About the World’s First Floating City

From recycled waste to revolutionary building materials, sustainability is at the center of this Bjarke Ingels Group–assisted model for climate resiliency
aerial view of city
An aerial view of a recently-unveiled design for what would function as a sustainable floating neighborhood just off the coast of the major South Korean port city. All renderings are courtesy of OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

From California to Copenhagen, cities are taking steps to stay above water. But as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group projects that rising sea levels of at least half a meter (roughly 1.6 feet) will affect 800 million city dwellers by 2050, addressing climate change will clearly require some unexpected and unconventional ideas.

Enter Oceanix Busan, a recently unveiled design for what would function as a sustainable floating neighborhood just off the coast of the major South Korean port city. The modular project will utilize a wide array of sustainable materials and methods in an effort to foster a self-sustaining human habitat capable of coping with any rise in sea level. Here’s a closer look at some of what makes this offshore project so groundbreaking.

A view from land shows sweeping harbor views.

Three platforms, three purposes

Oceanix Busan’s initial design calls for three interconnected platforms, connected to land via bridges, each with a distinct function. There’s a Lodging Platform, which offers guest rooms with sweeping harbor views, shopping, dining, and other communal spaces. A Research Platform features a temperature-controlled garden space, including hydroponic towers that will grow the floating city’s food. Finally the Living Platform is where full-time inhabitants reside and gather.

There’s room to expand

The initial Oceanix blueprint calls for 15.5 acres of platform space with room for 12,000 people. But just as it’s designed to rise with sea levels, its rather modular footprint can grow to accommodate 100,000 people across a total of 20 platforms.

It’s built using material that grows

A key material in the Oceanix Busan platforms—which will be anchored to the seabed—is Biorock. Often used to help repair damage to coral reefs and reinvigorate aquatic ecosystems, Biorock essentially absorbs minerals from seawater to naturally form a limestone coating that’s not only multiple times stronger than typical concrete, but is also self-sustaining and self-repairing over time. Add in the fact that Biorock actually absorbs a bit of carbon dioxide, and it’s easy to see why this sustainable material plays an essential role in the project.

The modular project will utilize a wide array of buildings that harness the power of sustainable materials.

Sustainability meets circularity

Oceanix Busan is designed to let nothing go to waste. The project will employ closed-loop systems that (re)harvest, filter, and reuse water. Other waste will be harnessed for use as agricultural feedstock and eco-friendly forms of energy. On-site solar and wind power will also allow for self-reliance with regards to electricity, though the platforms are connected to the local power grid as a backup.

New city, new mobility

Although connection to solid ground grants access to an on-land subway station, traditional cars and trains aren’t how residents will navigate the platforms themselves. In addition to movement on foot or biking, Oceanix promises “shared and multimodal mobility,” which could include something akin to aquatic buses, if renderings on the project’s website are any indication.

The initial Oceanix blueprint calls for 15.5 acres of platform space with room for 12,000 people.

It takes a village to float a city

Though Oceanix gets top billing for this Busan project, the project is quite the collaborative effort. In addition to working with the city of Busan itself, help came from the UN Human Settlements Programme (a.k.a. UN-Habitat, which has been looking into floating cities since 2019), Bjarke Ingels Group, the Samsung subsidiary Samoo Architects and Engineers, and Arup. That’s not to mention input from aquatic experts at the Korea Maritime and Ocean University, the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, and the Global Coral Reef Alliance.

It’s not the only floating project in the works

Although Oceanix Busan is eye-catching and innovative, it’s but one facet of a global effort to future-proof cities and countries as sea levels rise. In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Powerhouse Company recently completed a floating office. In the Maldives, where rising sea levels pose a truly existential threat to the island nation, construction on a floating city project will start this year.

Currently, Oceanix Busan is in the permitting stage. Once that’s handled, construction on the $627-million project is expected to begin in 2023, with a goal of finishing before the end of 2025.