Beating Climate Change at Sea

The hundreds of thousands of folks that live on low lying land are probably the most concerned about climate change. And why wouldn’t they be—they’re the first to lose out if stuff goes haywire. Some entrepreneuring young architects have begun to brainstorm on just how to survive the potential lying in wait.

Maldives, thanks to Custom Centre

Maldives, thanks to Custom Centre

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2100, sea-level could rise could be upwards of 37 inches. Low-lying islands are going to get picked off one by one if we get anywhere near that projection.

The 1,200 islands of the Maldives total 115 square miles, just about twice the size of Washington, D.C. And with the highest point on all those islands towering at 8 ft.—yeah, I’d be worried too. The capital city of Malé is on an island so small and so densely populated, that the nation’s one international airport has to housed on a sister island (which is more man-made than anything else).

Male, Maldives and its international Airport

Male, Maldives and its international Airport

The concerns led now former president Mohamed Nasheed on an international campaign to stop climate change—which he likened to saving his country. Can you blame him?

I’m still personally holding out for Nasheed’s victory and the end to global warming (I just turned 30, so idealism is still a near in my rear-view mirror). However, in the more likely case that global warming does start nipping away at the edges of small island nations like the Maldives, there are bright minds working to solve the issue.

How about oil rigs? Well, not the grimy, grease-spotted ones still in use. Let’s think about a more domesticated version. Sound crazy? Maybe, maybe not.

The future of the Maldives

The future of the Maldives

That’s exactly what Mayank Thammalla came up for his Master’s in Architecture thesis, aptly dubbed Swim or Sink. I personally like that he put the positive option up front. I hate to think about the latter for a nation of 345,000.

He’s designed the platforms to use obsolete oil rigs. By recycling and refurbishing them, it would be like the CarMax experience—new car smell, old car bargain.

Cross section of Swim or Sink

Cross section of Swim or Sink

The platform islands are semi-submersible with landing pads for boats at the base that would be the first to come and go with the waves. These landing pads would also promote the Maldivian tradition (and dietary necessity) of fishing.

As a matter of fact, the entire point of the project, according to Thammalla, is to preserve the nation’s culture and identity. The nation has proposed transporting its entire populace to a colony it could potentially purchase in Australia. In doing so, they risk losing their identity as a people and their heritage as a nation.

Housing units on upper levels

Housing units on upper levels

Thammalla’s plan, however, maintains the Maldivian’s spot on the mat and is designed to accommodate their needs and customs. He says that the goal of the project is “to sustain cultural continuity with the parameters defined by the oil rig.”

He’s studied the layout ratios of current Maldivian homes, and says that the oil rigs will actually alleviate urban density. The public area of the platform is also designed after the current layout on Malé, with designs including a central Mosque.

Public realm at platform level

Public realm at platform level

In addition to the cultural aspects of fishing, housing and the public fora, Thammalla has also made projections for agriculture on-platform (or off-shore… either way, you get the point…) His designs went through multiple iterations before he could get the sustainable spatial design of habitat capacity and agricultural area.

The plan proposes taking a look back into Maldivian cultural history. On top of edible agriculture, he has proposed using palm timber as the primary building material, a local tradition lost to modernity. This may keep the people rooted in a stronger way with nature if they feel it close at hand.

That said, the focus is clearly on the future. Instead of maintaining the nation’s current reliance on diesel fuel for electricity, Thammalla has wiped the slate clean and started over with renewable energy infrastructure.

While the project may seem like a longshot, so too did the personal computer just a generation ago, and the television a generation before that. With 85 years left before the possible peril of the Maldivian landmass, there’s time to research and perfect any number of fail-safe measures for the continuity of the Maldivian culture. This is no Water World—climate change is the real thing. So let’s keep all options open until we find what works.

What the platforms would look like surrounding Male, presumably as it sinks

What the platforms would look like surrounding Male, presumably as it sinks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s