South Korea is designing a 'flood-proof' city that can house 12,000 people and looks like a giant, floating honeycomb — take a look

  • In April, floating-city development firm Oceanix unveiled plans for a floating city in South Korea.

  • The city is designed to float on a cluster of interconnected platforms that span 15.5 acres.

  • The project aims to regenerate marine ecosystems by encouraging the growth of coral reefs underneath.

A floating city prototype is set to come to Busan, South Korea.

Busan floating city mockup: aerial view
Floating cities like OCEANIX Busan may help solve rising sea levels and climate change.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Busan Metropolitan City is the second-largest city in South Korea and home to the country's largest port. As a coastal city, rising sea levels and climate change threaten its very existence.

That's where Oceanix Busan, a floating city prototype, comes into play. The city is designed to float on a cluster of interconnected platforms that collectively span 15.5 acres and can produce their own energy, water, and food without relying on the city's resources, the company website states.

Floating-city development firm Oceanix, and architectural firms Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Samoo Architects & Engineers, are behind the UN-backed project.

The project was unveiled at the UN Headquarters on April 26 and is expected to be completed in 2025.

The city will be built on thick, hollow platforms that are made of concrete and trap air underneath them to keep the whole mechanism afloat.

Busan floating city mockup: an island with a building
The floating platforms are designed to withstand the weight of five-story buildings, per developers.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

"The depth of the platform provides a big space in the hull, almost like a basement that contains mostly air to counteract the forces of the weight of the buildings on top," Daniel Sundlin, a partner at BIG, told Insider.

The space also functions as a storage area for energy storage and waste-management systems, Sundlin said.

A mooring system connects the platforms to the seafloor to minimize lateral movements, Matteo Pietrobelli, the chief engineer at Oceanix, told Insider. However, the system will be able to move up and down.

"That's why we call it flood-proof: As the water rises, the platforms can float and their foundations will also adapt to the water level," Pietrobelli continued.

The platforms' design takes into consideration the comfort levels of people onboard, Pietrobelli said.

"It's almost as if you are on land even when you have the highest waves, which means when you have no waves, you actually don't even feel it. There's nothing to feel," he added. "Nobody's going to feel sick on it."

Developers intend to use the part of the platforms that's underwater to attract marine life and create coral reefs.

Underneath the platforms, engineers plan to install Biorock to help attract marine life and create coral reefs to regenerate the ecosystem
Developers plan to encourage coral growth under the platform.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Developers are planning to install biorock, which encourages the growth of coral reefs, on the bottom of the platform, Pietrobelli said.

A weak current is put through a metal rod in the water to attract minerals and build up a limestone layer over time — making it the perfect substrate for the growth of coral reefs, he said.

"We will be using these to create an intricate mesh on the anchors of the platform, creating a large surface area to attract marine life," Sundlin added.

The prototype for the floating city can accommodate 12,000 residents, but because the platform is modular, it could be scaled up to house as many as 100,000 people. When scaled up, the platforms will be arranged in a hexagonal shape inspired by honeycombs.

Aerial view of the floating platforms, which are arranged in a hexagonal shape.
A rendering of the floating platforms.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

The team had initially considered building the city in the shape of a circle, which would withstand the wind and waves from all directions equally. However, circular items are expensive to build and difficult to connect, Sundlin said.

Instead, the team turned to nature, and to the honeycomb specifically, for inspiration.

"The hexagonal shape is very close to a circle in terms of efficiency and it also means that you have straight surfaces. With two platforms, you can have two straight surfaces connected together," he said.

"The site in Busan is the perfect place for us to build the prototype. It's close to the city yet has relatively deep water," Sundlin said.

Daytime view of the harbour
A rendering shows that the platforms are designed with a low edge so that residents can have direct access to the water.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

The protected harbor of the Busan site can also guard the platforms against strong waves to ensure comfort, Pietrobelli added.

The prototype features three platforms, each of which has a specific use: residential, daily living, and research, per the Oceanix site. The residential platforms will offer a range of housing options including apartments and hotels. The neighborhood on the daily living platform will be similar to that of Busan's streets, with small alleys of food vendors and various local businesses. The research platform will be a hub for maritime and environmental research, the website said.

"Each platform will have a mobility pavilion where you can switch between land-based and water-based vehicles. You can also walk from your house or use a boat, a kayak, or a ferry to move between the platforms as the city grows," Sundlin said.

The buildings on the platforms go up to five stories high, in order for even weight distribution, he added.

Oceanix Busan is intended to be a "plugin" to Busan that can operate self-sufficiently, Pietrobelli said.

The platforms are designed with a low edge so that residents can have direct access to the water
Instead of reclaiming land, which can potentially destroy underwater ecosystems, coastal cities can look to floating platforms as a form of expansion, according to the developers.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

"The idea is that every system in place, such as electricity, water, and waste management, is basically completely independent from the mainland," Pietrobelli added.

Most of the buildings' roofs will have solar panels to generate energy and there will be dedicated areas on the platform for aeroponics and hydroponics farms, Sundlin said. He added that there are also plans to install water recycling plants.

The floating city is being designed as an alternative to land reclamation, especially for coastal cities that need to expand due to a growing population, Sundlin said.

"In many cases, land reclamation is bad for the environment," he said. "But when you create a floating platform to build cities on, you eliminate the need for land reclamation and improve the environment, since the foundations of the platform will actually attract marine life."

The floating city will still be attached to energy grids and water systems from the land, in case of an emergency, he said.

The team hopes the city-planning solution can eventually be put to use on land.

Busan floating city mockup: aerial view at night
The developers hope that sustainable city management systems can be applied for use on land.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

"We're not doing it just for the sake of developing real estate on water. What we're doing here is to guarantee survival to the human species when we're going to have issues, not just from rising sea levels, but also from a climate refugee perspective," Pietrobelli said.

Other countries and companies have announced similar floating city plans in the past.

Busan floating city mockup: aerial view
A rendering of Oceanix Busan.OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

In 2019, Japanese engineering company Shimizu Corporation revealed on its company site that it was designing a floating city called the Green Float. The company claims the Green Float can withstand natural disasters like tsunamis and can house up to 40,000 people.

In 2021, Maldives announced plans to build a floating housing development in a lagoon near the capital. The government say construction on the project, known as Maldives Floating City (MFC), is expected to commence in 2022.

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