ARCHITECTURE: Floating Cities.

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Subj: RE: Floating cities?

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From: bill kovarik <[email protected]>
Subject: RE: Floating cities?
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"Alex Soojung-Kim Pang" at Oct 12, 93 10:37 am
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[Stuff Deleted] ... Why design one of these cities? I know from
> doing similar projects in high school and college that one can get a lot of
> satisfaction out of identifying and solving the technical problems of such a
> project, but who is going to live in such cities? What advantages to
> cities have over regular cities? What will their economies be like? I ask
> this because in American culture, and ESPECIALLY that part of American
> that is interested in technology and the future, there is a tradition of
> imagining cities in the jungle, huge agricultural projects in the desert,
> massive levitating cities, etc.. You see these proposals in old books about
> World's Fairs, and they're still on display in EPCOT. They're expressions
> of technical prowess and a certain kind of audaciousness, but their purpose
> is never made clear. I suspect many of their designers never think about
> the broader purpose of these cities. What does your group envision?
> Good luck with your project.
> Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
> Department of History
> University of California, Berkeley
> [email protected]

Im a science writer and journalism teacher, and hence not an expert,
but I have long been interested in Fuller's floating city concept.

Let me take Dr. Pang's excellent analysis one or two steps further. The
enthusiasm for big engineering projects was a product of a simpler age,
to be sure. There's a book called "Engineers Dreams" which depicts a
floating city as a mid-Atlantic airport plan from the 1940s. Sometime
in the 1970s the University of Hawaii designed a floating city, and
you can get the book on interlibrary loan. I know the Virginia Tech
architecture school library has it, if you cant find it anywhere else.

Both the airport and the Hawaii ideas dealt with structural engineering
problems primarily, and of course the question is why on earth such
things should be built. There are important reasons to consider floating
cities as resources for the not too distant future, I believe.

A very important need is for factories for processing renewable energy
resources which would be too expensive or too ecologically disruptive
to collect on land. Of course, the most problematic aspect of renewable
energy is its dispersed nature. It must be collected and concentrated, and
the process of doing that can raise costs to a non- competitive level with
fossil energy.
For many decades, biochemical engineers have looked to marine biomass
resources as being possible to cultivate in enormous quantities without
creating ecological disruptions. As early as 1918 the Pasteur Institute was
engaged in the study of renewable liquid fuels like methyl and ethyl alcohol
from kelp. They were able to produce about 10 gallons of fuel alcohol per ton
using an acid hydrolysis method. This is very old technology; better methods
are available today.

In the late 1970s and early 80s tremendous new attention focused on renewable
resources, and marine biomass was the subject of a good deal of study. One of
the most important was the Marine Biomass Energy Conversion Technology
Research Committee of the Japan Ocean Industries Association. In one study
they found that a 50 kg / m2 per year was the average productivity of both
Sargassum and Laminaria type kelp. I dont know if they investigated the
various energy production scenarios or what their final figures are, but you
could probably find out pretty quickly.

If we converted kelp to renewable liquid energy at the rate of 10 gallons per
ton, what do we get? Lets assume one ton (1,000 kg) is grown on 20 square
meters and produces 10 gallons. To make a million gallons we need an area of
200 square kilometers. To make a billion gallons would take a 2,000 square mile
area, and to replace just the gasoline used in the U.S. (100 billion gallons a
year) with alcohol from marine biomass would take a 40,000 square kilometer
area -- around the size of Ireland and Cuba. Of course, more efficient
processes and enhanced production could decrease the necessary size, but there
would be little problem finding space in the ocean for an extra 40,000
kilometers somewhere. You would hope that the final cost of this liquid fuel
was within a tolerable range, lets say $1.20 (US prices) to $5.00 per gallon
(European fuel prices).

OK, what about the waste products. When the kelp is hydrolized we get this
goopy green
leftover glop -- some of it could go to other chemical processes and some
could be returned to the sea, along with treated sewage from the city, to
fertilize the kelp beds for future harvests.

How do you support the rest of the city? Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion
(OTEC) for electricity and fish farming and hydroponics for food, other light
manufacturing, some mining of deep sea minerals -- those are possibilities.

What is impossible to make at sea? Probably heavy industrial processes, such
as steel mills, aluminum refining, textiles, etc.

Who would live there? Given the need for dignified employment in many
developing nations, I would think that you could find millions of people
willing to become "kelpers." If developing nations would divert financial
resources out of the petroleum sector and into sustainable development, it
could vastly raise the standard of living of some of the poorest people on
earth and solve a large portion of the environmental crisis at the same time.

You can see (squint hard, now) some of the visions of Huxley or Fuller or even
Dwayne Andreas in play here, and we can see the outline of a real solution to
the world energy / environmental crisis in the development of floating cities
that produce renewable energy and food.

I hope this stimulates some discussion and that the students in Southside
Virginia will let me know if I can help in any way. Im just over the Blue

Bill Kovarik
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Media Studies
Radford University
Radford, Va. 24141
[email protected]
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