Vincent Callebaut seeks new living spaces.
The centre of the Belgian
architect's life is in Paris, where he
develops cities of the future
with their own elaborate ecosystems.
"Ilypad" - this is the name the Belgian Architect, Vincent Callebaut, has chosen for his living project designated for the year 2100, to denote its resemblance to the water lily. He imagines floating islands - completely self-sufficient - that accommodate 50,000 people. They are products of fantasy that will hopefully soon become a reality, since a third of the world's population is crowded in coastal agglomerations.
According to the UN Panel on Climate Change, sea levels are expected to rise by 88 centimetres by the end of the century. This is bad news for cities like New York, London or Stralsund. "Humanity will have to begin its orderly retreat", says Mojib Latif, climate scientist (and scientific advisor to the CLIMATE MAGAZINE) from Kiel. In Bangladesh, the water is threatening streets and dams - up to thousands of kilometres by the year 2050. But one doesn't even have to look that far away: six percent of the Netherlands could be submerged by then. The result: millions would be forced to flee from rising sea levels to find a new home.
Reason enough for Vincent Callebaut to reclaim land from the sea. The Belgian based out of Paris dreams of futuristic cities that float on the ocean and contain everything humans need: including shops, jobs and entertainment, as well as a harbour for ships to dock there. These lilypads in the shape of water lily leaves are not merely pipe dreams of a luxury designer. They are sophisticated and self sufficient ecosystems. Solar, wind and hydroelectric energy will supply heat and electricity. Rainwater is collected in a sea surrounded by plants, situated in the centre of the construction, enclosed by partially vegetated slopes of different elevations on the sides. There is enough space for everyone.
According to Callebaut, people are to live in harmony with nature within this small world from the get go. Energy procurement in the green city is also meant to be autonomous. In his elaborate vision, solar cells, wind turbines and a dedicated hydroelectric power plant produce more energy than is required. Recycling is supposed to cancel out pollutant emissions. Streets and cars are not provided for in Callebaut's amphibious city. Whoever wants to travel from point A to point B as fast as possible is in the wrong place anyway: the individual islands are meant to drift across the ocean, carried by sea currents and the weather.
Utopia or reality? For Callebaut, there is no contradiction between the two. The 32-yearold Belgian is known for his utopian ideas. "My goal is to create a harmonious union between humans and nature", the Architect emphasizes. His wish is to have 50 000 people of all creeds and social strata on each island. Callebaut: "First and foremost, they should accommodate those people whose land and livelihood has been swallowed by the sea - such as the inhabitants of the Polynesian atolls." Through alternative energies and self-sufficient agriculture - the bulk of which is to be performed underground - they would be able to dependently support themselves.
The question remains whether Callebaut's plans can actually be implemented. He has yet to reveal the cost of a lilypad. One way or another: climate change and its effects necessitate urgent action. Scientists and city planners worldwide are striving for preventative measures. To give just one example of a mammoth project: Venice's designated protective barrier, Moses, is to be completed by 2012 and will cost an estimated 4 billion euros. The barriers remain below sea level whenever water levels are normal. In the event of an impending flood, they are raised to keep the water away from Venice. The Netherlands also have decades of experience to look back on when it comes to the battle against water. A highly complex floodgate system and fifty levee rings - partially fortified with multiple lines of defense - have since been constructed.
Vincent Callebaut has openly voiced his opposition to these types of protective measures. For him, dams and alert systems are merely short-term solutions. Instead, his plans seek to guarantee a long-term solution by providing a home for refugees of the climate catastrophe. His plans still remain in the realm of utopia. But would we have dared to dream of cell phones, GPS or satellite technology three decades ago?
Already the science-fiction author Jules Verne submerged an entire city in "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea". Today, scientists and architects are aspiring for new living spaces in the ocean. Complete ecosystems, vegetated slopes and space for plants and farm animals are to return humans to a life in harmony with nature.