Jan-Feb 2018


by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle

Groundbreaking solutions are being invented by forward-thinking architects to show how coastal cities can become more resilient, viewing climate change as an opportunity to lead the way in waterborne and flood-resistant architecture.

Sea levels are rising to new highs, temperatures are increasing, and floods and storms are getting fiercer and more widespread. Climate change is not just about the risk of floods and drowning, but also the financial cost of damaged property and businesses; as well as how it will redefine which parts of a city are sought after and which are unsafe. A 1-metre sea level rise would reorganise maps and affect financial stability in many of the world’s biggest waterfronts, in cities like New York and Miami, and low-lying areas in Bangladesh, Vietnam and the Philippines. By resolving the issues stemming from climate change and urbanisation, water-based architecture is redefining urbanism. Offering a minimally invasive method of construction, modern floating developments take advantage of coastal zones, rivers, lakes and canals in space-starved cities and provide flexibility as they may be modified, moved and reused until the end of their life cycles when they are recycled. The technologies and innovations required for water-based constructions already exist, but now changing the perception towards floating schemes is key to a more sustainable and safer future that will be able to meet modern-day challenges.

What if instead of fighting rising sea levels, we embrace the water by integrating it into our cities, creating resilient buildings and infrastructure that can deal with extreme flooding and heavy rains?

A leader in floating architecture who sees the potential that water can bring in making cities more resilient and safer, Koen Olthuis and his Amsterdam-based firm Waterstudio (founded in 2003) have been showing the benefits of building on water and how befriending water is a means for survival. Olthuis believes that for centuries, as the climate and sea levels have been relatively stable, the resulting built environments have become too static. Now, with the arrival of uncertainty, cities should be designing with mobility and flexibility, viewing urban water as a chance to upgrade cities rather than a side effect. He states, “We are at the tipping point of entering the next kind of city. We have now the static modern city, but in one or two years from now, we’ll see that the green city will flourish. Then the next city to start will be the smart city with autonomous cars and more data availability—all to create a better city. But we are even one step further. We believe in the rise of the blue city. Cities that are next to, connecting to or have water will start to use that water to create cities that are more flexible, responsive, adaptive and built to change. So if there’s a need for cities that react to the seasons, that are different in winter than in summer, we can do it on water. We can do it better on water than on land because on water, everything is flexible and you can move complete urban components.” Dynamic hydro-cities adaptable to changing needs should already be letting water in and making it part of the city, so that rising sea levels or storms would mean living with a bit more water instead of a sudden shock when conditions go from dry to flooded.

To plan for the future, a resilient city should concentrate on which areas should be kept dry, which can be changed from dry to wet, and which existing waters can be expanded; it is all about fighting water with water, wetting up the city. At-risk cities have to make the choice to become climate refugees or adopt floating technologies and become climate innovators.




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Previously Published Commentary (Abstracts)
Jul-Aug 2017
Mar-Apr 2017
Mar-Apr 2017
Jan-Feb 2017
Dr Kishnani examines the challenge of teaching sustainability in the classroom, summarising the pedagogy of the urban studio of the Master of Science, Integrated Sustainable Design programme at the School of Design and Environment, NUS. This is described as a set of aspirations and a framework for a studio assignment.
Sep-Oct 2016
Whether opting to go local, natural or modular, material selection can be less about materialism and more about the planet and the people who inhabit it. 
Jul-Aug 2016
While many aspects of Singapore’s development have been described internationally in glowing terms, the island’s public spaces have often faced a cooler response. 
Mar-Apr 2016
To meet the needs of a rapidly growing urban population, a number of new infrastructure projects will need to be delivered around the world, particularly in developing countries where these trends are at their most extreme. 
Mar-Apr 2016
The need for smarter cities is especially pressing in Asia, which is home to over half of the world’s urban population, and together with Africa, will account for 90 percent of the world’s urban population growth by 2050, according to United Nations’ figures. 
Nov-Dec 2015
The Third International Tatlin’s Tower was designed in 1919 by Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin—a tremendous structure that was meant to serve as a political propaganda hub for the city, state and the world beyond. 

Sep-Oct 2015
Singapore is not often thought of as a competitive market for solar panels. Its thicket of high-rise office and apartment buildings means only a small patch of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels can be set atop each one to generate electricity—that may be a financially inefficient proposition for an individual building owner.

Sep-Oct 2015
RETHINKING COMFORT: A PATHWAY TO LOW-ENERGY BUILDINGS by Wolfgang Kessling, Martin Engelhardt and Ina Maia
Buildings today require massive energy inputs. The way we define comfort plays a significant role in this, specifically the design of systems needed to cool indoor spaces. But is this necessary? Is the narrow bandwidth of conditions that air-conditioners deliver the only way to achieve thermal comfort?

May-Jun 2015
Whereas Green design aims to reduce environmental impact, and sustainable design aims to achieve intra- and intergenerational equity in access to resources and a healthy, natural environment, the aim of regenerative design is far higher. It aims to transform the way we create the built environment so that it contributes to the well-being, nourishment and regeneration of the world and all its communities.

Mar-Apr 2015
When you think of ecotourism, vivid images are conjured—treetop houses, natural waterfalls, untouched islands using only what nature provides to survive, and wildlife roaming around free where you are being accommodated. While ecotourism has not consistently got to that level yet, it is on its way, and is the fastest growing segment of tourism around the world.

Mar-Apr 2015
When you think of ecotourism, vivid images are conjured—treetop houses, natural waterfalls, untouched islands using only what nature provides to survive, and wildlife roaming around free where you are being accommodated. While ecotourism has not consistently got to that level yet, it is on its way, and is the fastest growing segment of tourism around the world.

Mar-Apr 2015
While catering to the various needs and comforts of their guests, hotels and resorts can also cater to the needs and comforts of the environment and communities they surround. The idea is that beyond the design of a building, the tourism industry could gain a long-term competitive advantage by taking a closer look at their daily operations and sustainable management plans.

Jan-Feb 2015
When restricted by the constraints of space, cost or materials, there is great challenge but also great opportunity to design homes that are not just functional but liveable. As cities continue to grow, affordability and availability of living spaces become increasingly problematic. Living small or compact may not only be a lifestyle choice but rather a necessity.

Jan-Feb 2015
India has traditions to keep, and traditions to let go. Ceiling fans, for example, which originated nearly 300 years ago as cloth-covered frames called punkah, are a tradition to keep. Clay bricks, on the other hand, which date back to the ancient civilisation of the Indus Valley, are a tradition to leave behind.

Sep-Oct 2014
From vertical gardens, sky gardens, underground walipinis to urban foresty, food production is becoming smarter, more ingenuitative and increasingly widespread.

Sep-Oct 2014
According to the online business dictionary, the definition of a smart city is a "developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by excelling in key multiple areas—economy, mobility, environment, people, living and government."

Jul-Aug 2014
The shophouse is an urban vernacular of Singapore and Malaysia that has an almost 200-year history. Today shophouses are conserved and adapted as swanky restaurants and bars, chic retail spaces, upmarket residences, boutique hotels, and other exclusive commercial developments.

Jul-Aug 2014
Host cities in the past have struggled, and some have failed, to establish a meaningful function for the infrastructure after the Games. Notable failures were Moscow, Beijing, and probably the most prominent, Athens. Large investments were injected to create showpieces for the duration of the Games, but ended up as eyesores thereafter.

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