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Aquacities: Engineering the future

Imagine a world where modern cities have plenty of space to grow, where overcrowding becomes a thing of the past and where sustainability comes as standard.

Such cities wouldn’t be on land though – they’d be built on water, making use of the 71% of available space that Earth has to offer which currently goes unused.

Aquacities are the brainchild of Neil Worrall, director of Property & Asset Management at JLL. His idea recently won him the top prize in the Next Big Thing competition run by real estate publication Estates Gazette to come up with solutions to the space crisis caused by planet Earth’s soaring population.

While the concept itself of floating cities may not be new – think the Aquapolis floating city for Expo 75 in Okinawa or even the 1995 film Waterworld, Worrall’s ambitious plan brings together realistic and futuristic elements to put his own twist on the idea. “Lots of the technology to create these cities already exists,” he tells Estate Gazette. “Large oil platforms are built straight into the sea bed. The principles are there.”

The basic of Aquacities

Aquacities would be built on a series of interconnecting hexagonal plates on top of a hydraulic jack system which could move up and down in sea levels were to fluctuate from global warming. The buildings would draw on the latest thinking around design in areas prone to natural disasters to make them earthquake and tsunami proof.

As with many modern city developments, sustainability is key: Aquacities would be carbon positive and fuelled by clean energies including solar and wind along with innovative technologies such as paving systems converting footsteps into energy and desalination processes to ensure sufficient water for drinking, washing and irrigation. With cars and aeroplanes banned, inhabitants would get around by cycling or and public transport powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

As part of his master plan, Worrall envisages building 100 Aquacities, each covering an area of 500 square miles and with a population density of 15,000 people per square mile. These would provide a home for 750 million people – yet only use less than 1% more of the total space available on earth.

Location, location, location

Aquacities would not just be built randomly offshore – each would need to be at least 12 nautical miles from the nearest point of land to ensure they’re in international waters and therefore outside the realms of any existing state jurisdiction. With 18 of the top 20 global cities within 200 miles of a major sea or ocean, Aquacities could remained well connected to mainland life through high speed Maglev style trains to provide quick and easy access to cities within a 300 mile radius.

“The tracks will be built on bridges raised well above high sea tides ad expected future sea levels,” says Worrall. “A similar principle has been set with the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge, the world’s longest bridge, which is a 165 kilometer long viaduct on the Beijing – Shanghai high speed railway.”

And while the concept throws up numerous governance issues not to mention questions over how the cities would be funded, Worrall believes that global co-operation would be essential if such an idea ever came into being.

“This will be a challenge,” he tells Estates Gazette. “China and other Asian countries are likely to need more of these cities but everyone would need to feed into the global structure. There needs to be a recognition that this is a global issue and even if you aren’t affected right now, growing population figures will affect everyone if we do not address the problem. We can’t just say ‘It’s not our fault China, go and sort yourself out’.”

With the UN predicting the global population will hit 10 billion by 2083 and a finite amount of space available on land, cities need innovative ideas to develop in smart and sustainable ways to support future generations. “As the population grows we have a choice of how to provide affordable and scalable accommodation, transport and infrastructure,” says Worrall. “We can build up, we can build down, we can build all around (and cut down every tree in the process) or we can build smart.

“We can build smart by using more of the space available to us on earth, by using largely existing technology and building techniques and by building in a sustainable manner with thought for future global environmental impacts.”

For now, the prospect of Aquacities may be feat of Worrall’s imagination but only time will tell if they could also be a feat of future engineering.

This article originally appeared on Real Views, JLL's news site that features stories exploring the world of real estate and its impact on the wider business world. Visit the Real Views site to subscribe for our weekly email of top stories, delivered direct to your inbox.