Maldives Fights Climate Change…With a Golf Course?
Ever since I heard the news of Maldives’ plans to build floating islands in response to the encroaching threat of rising sea levels, I just can’t shake the feeling that a gigantic star-shaped convention center and golf course has little to do with abating climate change. This floating facility is supposedly the first of a series of floating properties developed by Dutch Docklands/Dutch Watervalley (who brought us the artificial islands of The World in Dubai) and designed by amphibious architecture expert Koen Olthuis of Dutch architecture firm Waterstudio.NL.
The Maldives have been making a splash lately (sorry) with bold moves to raise climate change awareness, most notably president President Mohamed Nasheed’s crack at holding the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting. As the lowest country in the world predicted by many scientists to be uninhabitable (i.e. underwater) in less than 100 years, they have already had to build expensive retaining walls to keep storm waves at bay and artificial beaches to replace eroded shorelines where houses collapse year after year.
Koen Olthuis’ idea of working with the water rather than against it definitely seems like the smart thing to do. Why fight against the inevitable? If there’s too much water, then make things float. Investing in floating minicities sounds like a better option (albeit costly) than building up walls or the potentially conflictive move to buy up land in nearby nations. But if the Maldives is facing such an urgent crisis, its capital of Malé the world’s most densely populated town with over 100,000 people in two square kilometres, why aren’t they building housing units instead of luxury golf resorts? I’m guessing upmarket tourism being the country’s biggest revenue source has something to do with it, which, by the way, hasn’t done much to lessen the gap between rich and poor.
For Dutch Docklands and partner Koen Olthius, Dubai was their oyster. Pre-financial-meltdown, the anything’s possible, rich project developers of Dubai gave this specialized company carte-blanche to test out their waterborne designs; in effect, an opportunity to prove their trade to their more conservative clients back home. As engineers of the megadevelopment The World (a rumored failure despite recent news of German construction), Dutch Docklands have also tendered to other fantasies of Dubai’s sheik with designs of floating islands shaped like verses of Arabic poetry, a waterborne rotating tower hotel, and villas situated on the famous Palm Islands, apparently none of which have been actually built.
In an interview last year, Olthuis explained the new technology behind his floating foundations: a concrete slab with a polystrene core that can easily be mass produced, easily constructed and can serve as a foundation for sporting grounds, schools, or anything else required. The buildings can be removed as easily as they were built. “It should not be ‘special’ to build on water. It will only become accepted as a construction method once it offers the same comfort durability as construction on land as the same price.”
With at least 50 built floating homes to his name since he founded Waterstudio.nl in 2003, there’s no doubt that Olthuis is opening some interesting avenues for alternative living options in the face of rising sea levels and increased floods. But using those ideas merely as wrapping paper doesn’t cut it. If the government of Maldives wants us to believe their commitment to fighting global warming, they should be asking designers to come up with real solutions for the hundreds of thousands of people at risk, not for an elite few to shoot the breeze on the putting green.