by Katherine Ely
When thinking about the ocean, or any large body of water for our purposes, some descriptions that come readily to mind are: vast, tumultuous, and perhaps most commonly, stunning. The riotous and uncontrolled nature of water does not typically incite feelings of stability. Yet, there is something about the seemingly measureless expanse of the ocean that fosters serenity. So how does one remedy this dichotomy of uncertainty and calm? Is the ocean really meant to be understood or tamed?
Some forward-thinking architects think so.
Building on water is appealing yet precarious. Venice, built in 421 AD, is alluring, yet sinking.
San Francisco International Airport, limited by its land mass, once prepared to build additional runway access on infill. This practical application of architecture on water would ease air traffic congestion and provide greater visibility given the Bay Area’s ominous fog.
With innovation — and an understanding of physics — most of what is seen in the built environment can be transposed to water. Take, for example, the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Golden State Warriors. Today, the Warriors’ home is on terra firma; and the proposition exists to build its successor on piles in the San Francisco Bay.
The innovator might imagine a floating hospital on stable, but not stagnant, barges that could be relocated along the coast of California in times of need. Attaching to various piers in the Bay Area, one barge might serve as the primary medical facility, while another would include a psychiatric unit, a rehabilitation center and social services. In case these floating accomplishments are not awe-inspiring enough, field, recreation, and therapeutic relaxation facilities might complete this beacon of accessible healthcare. The mobility of these barges – able to function as a whole, or individually – has the ability to provide healthcare, jobs, and psychological benefits to the wider Bay Area, as well as the greater Pacific coast.
Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tsu said: “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful.”
The challenge of floating architecture is not to tame water, rather to interact with it. In order to reap the benefits—allure, practicality, and innovation—of aquatic architecture, we must create a symbiotic relationship between water, people, and structure.