Construction, often referred to as “art of building civilization”, has served as a barometer to gauge a society's potential for survival and development. What kind of future are Hyundai E&C's core competencies and technologies heading toward? To answer this question, Hyundai E&C has planned a series of columns provide perspectives from experts in various fields.
Threats due to global warming
[ Venice, “City of Water”, in Italy is regularly flooded at certain times of the year due to the “acqua alta” phenomenon, where the tides get unusually high, causing sea levels to rise ]
The other day, I came across a news story about canals in Venice drying up and exposing their bare bottoms. As "the city of water", built on pilings under the sea, Venice has always been vulnerable to water level fluctuations. From fall to winter, the water level rises like an annual event, and tourists pack their boots in preparation for the "acqua alta" (high water). However, it was the first time I'd ever witnessed a canal dry up to reveal its black muddy bottom, leaving gondolas helplessly stalled. Even ambulances ferrying emergency patients were unable to operate, as the main transportation services that relied on the dense network of waterways were paralyzed.
Climate change has many faces. It is not just about rising average temperatures, heat waves, and melting glaciers. Take last summer's massive wildfires near Yosemite National Park in California, USA. An area roughly 25 times the size of Yeouido was quickly burned to ashes. The scars from the wildfires of just two years earlier had barely faded. According to researchers at the University of California, the greenhouse gas emissions from that fire were twice as much as the reductions made in the previous18 years.
[ The Maldives, known as "Heaven on Earth", is also doomed to be wiped off the map due to rising sea levels ]
Global warming is causing sea levels to rise steadily. This is especially true considering that 40% of the world's population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast. Eight of the world's ten largest cities are not safe from rising sea levels, and the Maldives, which is only one meter above sea level, is destined to be the first country in the world to be erased from the map.
There are many discussions being held around the world about how to stop sea level from rising. We can build levees and dams to completely block access to the water, but the more we lock it away, the more it will eventually overflow or burst somewhere unexpected. Now, it is high time to talk specifically about how to coexist with water. It is time to make room for water to stay inland, and recognize and leverage the ocean as our new habitat.
Why did Le Corbusier include a picture of a ship on his book cover?
[ The cover of Le Corbusier's <VERS UNE ARCHITECTURE>, a must-read for architecture majors, features an ocean liner on the cover ]
Le Corbusier's <VERS UNE ARCHITECTURE>, considered a must-read for architecture students, describes what architecture of contemporary world should look like based on the advances made by the industrial and technological revolutions. You would expect to see a stunning architectural photograph on the cover to represent this, but instead there is a corridor of an ocean liner*. It's hard to see what the appeal is in such a bland scene, reminiscent of an apartment corridor, but Le Corbusier saw the future of architecture in manufactured goods, where advanced technology and capital converge.
*Ocean liner : A ship carrying passengers and cargo for transportation across oceans or seas.
An ocean liner or cruise ship is like an apartment building. Many people live, socialize, and play on board, and services like hospitals and restaurants are also available. Appropriately sized rooms reflect a thrifty and practical way of life, and complex machinery is completely hidden within the three-dimensional curved structure cleaving through the water. Above all, ships, like architecture, are not tied to a particular land, but are free to move from birth to their final days. Le Corbusier, more than anyone else, dreamed of an architecture that was not tied to fixed coordinates.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, technological optimism led people to envision settlements in deserts, polar regions, undersea, and outer space. In the meantime, the sea has become a favorite place for architects to fulfill new dreams. Typical examples of maritime utopias include Kenzo Tange’s 1960 plan for Tokyo (1960) and Kiyonori Kikutake's Marine City project (1958-1963). During this period, Japan was full of hope and confidence ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, and aimed to lead the world in architecture with a concept called Metabolism*.
*Metabolism: An architectural movement unique to Japan before and after the 1960s that viewed buildings as organic organisms, as in the metabolism of matter.
[ American architect Buckminster Fuller's Triton City on the cover of the book <A Study of a Prototype Floating Community>(left), and the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, USA, which features many of Fuller's design features. ]
American architect Buckminster Fuller's Triton City was also the result of a Japanese commission to design a massive floating home in what was then Tokyo Bay. Fuller envisioned a self-sufficient city that could house up to 100,000 people in the form of a giant pyramid, responding to gravity in the most primary way. It would be powered by renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and wave power, and would have a waste management and recycling system to minimize its environmental impact. It would also have a system for people to live together in a more equitable and collaborative way to solve urban problems. However, like the word utopia, which is a combination of the Greek words “ou” (absence) and “topos” (place), Triton City remains a visionary idea that has never existed.
The tangible embodiment of the maritime community envisioned by visionaries is expected to emerge around 2030. The $500 billion Neom project, announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, includes the floating city of Oxagon. Covering a total area of 48 square kilometers and a diameter of 7 kilometers, the octagonal industrial city will float on the sea and will be 33 times the size of New York City and home to 90,000 people. Powered by abundant solar and wind energy, Oxagon aims to become the hub of technological innovation with a focus on artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing.
[ Reference model of “HMG Greenfield Smart City” announced by Hyundai Motor Group last year (Source: Hyundai Motor Group) ]
Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) has also been conducting various studies related to future cities. In August last year, HMG participated in the 2022 World Cities Summit in Singapore and unveiled the <Smart City Reference Model>. The model drew attention for its improved accessibility to green and waterfront spaces and pedestrian-friendly ground spaces in line with the direction of “human-centered cities, cities that coexist with nature, and sustainable cities”. HMG continues to conduct advanced studies on the infrastructure required for smart cities and is materializing the blueprint for future cities.
How the Netherlands coexists with water
[ A typical Dutch landscape, where windmills and ships are often visible. The Netherlands is a country where 40% of the land is reclaimed land, completed over hundreds of years by building dikes and pumping water out with windmills and pumps. ]
With more than a third of its landmass reclaimed, the Netherlands is one country that knows how to handle water. Much of the country's land is a testament to its patience as it built dikes, used windmills to pump out the sea water, and waited for the land to become less salty and more arable. As you drive along the endless horizon, the above sea-level on your GPS sometimes displays a negative number. The strangeness of speeding under the sea may be a sensation that we will all eventually have to get used to.
With more than 3,000 boathouses in the Netherlands, living on the water is a part of everyday life. It's not uncommon to find homes with water access that allow you to get out on the water right from your living room, and there's also a growing number of houseboat residential complexes that use the buoyancy of hollow concrete boxes to float on the water like a ship. They're no different from houses on land, except that they can move up and down depending on the height of the waves. In fact, thanks to the water's insulating properties, underwater spaces don't need air conditioning or heating.
The Netherlands has a more diverse story. Recently, a full-fledged underwater space opened its doors after four years of construction. While there have been underwater facilities for tourism, this is the first time a public facility has been built on the ocean floor for public use. The Stationsplein and IJboulevard, located at the central station, can park 7,000 and 4,000 bicycles, respectively. Thanks to the new facility, the surroundings of Amsterdam's main train station have been transformed into a more spacious and cleaner environment. The underwater bike garages are being welcomed since they not only alleviate the city's ongoing bike theft problem, but also provide much-needed parking for the city's growing number of cyclists.
Underwater cities are growing in visibility
The idea of building underwater cities has been around for centuries, but it wasn't until the 20th century that it was given serious consideration. The concept of underwater cities is based on the idea of creating a self-sufficient environment that can sustain human life underwater. In 1969, the US government launched the Tektite program, a series of experiments to study the effects of living underwater on human physiology and psychology. The program built a 13-meter-deep laboratory off the coast of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where four scientists stayed for 58 days to closely observe changes in the human body.
[ A bird’s eye view of the underwater science base that Hyundai E&C is building off the coast of Ulsan with the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (Source: Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology) ]
South Korea is also taking the first steps toward building an underwater city. Led by the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology and involving 22 organizations and companies, including the Korea Maritime University, Korea Aerospace Research Institute, and Hyundai E&C, the plan to build an underwater science base is somewhat akin to the aforementioned Tektite project in terms of its purpose and scale.
The science base will be located 900 meters off the coast of Ulsan's Sinli Port, 30 meters below the seabed, in an environment where turbidity, tides, and water temperature are ideal for underwater operations, and there has been no land subsidence in the last 20 years. Initially, the project will test a space where three people can stay for 30 days, with the goal of extending it to a modular underwater structure which is truly livable by 2027. What sets Ulsan Underwater City apart from other initiatives is that robots will take over the underwater construction work beneath the sea. Hyundai E&C and the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology are working together to develop underwater construction robots that will be used to take modular structures made on land to the seabed and assemble them underwater, an effort that could eventually lead to building cities in the outer space.
Awareness is more important than technology
The city of Rotterdam, Netherlands, has released a water city plan in anticipation of sea level rise in 2035. They are no longer looking to raise dikes. Instead, they have embraced water as their new land, and have proposed concrete solutions to coexist with water. [ ▶ Rotterdam Water City 2035 project website: https://marcovermeulen.eu/en/projects/rotterdam+water+city+2035) ]
The expanded river surface becomes the address of the new floating dwellings, and the embankment surrounding them serves as a promenade. The courtyards of apartment buildings become reservoirs for water, and infrastructure such as sewage treatment plants are incorporated into daily life like children's playgrounds. Life with water will not be as straightforward as the blueprint suggests. However, on the other hand, it would mean freeing the country from the long-standing burden of “producing” the land by constantly filling in the oceans.
[ Lilypad, a floating city proposed by Belgian ecologist-architect Vincent Callebaut. With a capacity for 50,000 people, the floating city is half underwater and half on the surface of water. Image source=flickr（Lilypad by Vincent Callebaut, Architect) ]
Faced with population growth and climate change, humanity is opening up the possibility of a variety of ways to harness the ocean for survival. From energy production methods such as offshore wind power and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC: which utilizes the temperature difference between warm surface water and cold deep ocean water to generate electricity), to fresh water production by evaporating seawater, to addressing food issues by cultivating algae that absorb carbon dioxide, the ocean is producing significant results in many different areas. The ocean, which has been the subject of SF movies such as <20,000 Leagues Under the Sea> and <Waterworld>, is fast becoming our everyday habitat.
Written by Bae Yoon-kyung / Photo= GettyImagesKorea, flickr, Hyundai Motor Group, Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology
Architect Bae Yoon-kyung graduated from Yonsei University's College of Architecture and the Berlage Institute in the Netherlands. Bae currently teaches architectural design and theory at Yonsei University and Dankook University, and writes and lectures on architecture for various media as part of Ogisa Design. Her books include <Architect's Guide to Amsterdam><Metonymic landscape of DDP>, <New Beauty Space> of Amorepacific, and <The Way We Build> of Hyundai Card.
※ This column is the subjective opinion of the author and may differ from the editorial direction of Hyundai E&C.