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Floating living room © victor zastol'skiy/

Future living space: Floating real estate at EXPO REAL?

Dr. Thomas Beyerle
Dr. Thomas Beyerle
Managing Director of Catella Property Valuation GmbH

Truthfully: You know all there is to know about building, financing or managing real estate. Then somebody comes up to you and says: “Now do the same on water!” Before dismissing the question out of hand, let’s just think about it for a moment.

Maybe you are reminded of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Or the notion that pops into your head is that of Archimedes’ principle of the buoyant force acting on solid bodies in a liquid medium. As a financing expert you might ask for comparables – but that won’t get you far because there is little market transparency and there are no comparisons. But you might come to the conclusion that even so, it is not completely out of the question.

“When you’re drowning, water is your only escape route.”

Architects and visionaries have long been attracted to utopian ideas of living on water. Their concepts ranged from floating airports and artificial island landscapes to complete metropoles. Today, technological progress and climate change mean the pressure is on to “think the unthinkable”, particularly when it comes to regions such as Bangladesh and the South Sea. Simply put: when you’re drowning, water is your only escape route.

Is the idea of living on the water too far-fetched? No. In recent decades, shore areas – especially in metropoles – have increasingly been exposed to “waterfront development” projects. All around the world, urban shore areas are being converted to residential use on a massive scale. In many cases, obsolete industrial spaces are transformed into homes. The classical method involves reclaiming land by backfilling shallow waters to create artificial islands. Even temporary floating islands made of ice have been successfully deployed. Houseboats are no longer just the dream of dropouts. And finally: floating houses on pontoons made of reinforced concrete, with levels of comfort comparable to those of “normal” houses.

“Aquapolis” from 1975 was never inhabited

Pontoon-type constructions and semi-submersibles also form the basis of offshore platforms, although these are considerably more massive. The only floating city ever constructed, “Aquapolis”, was built on this principle. It was created for the 1975 World Exposition by Kiyonori Kikutake, but only as an exhibition piece that was never inhabited. For really large cities you would need so-called megafloats, floating foundations visually resembling islands. So far a one-kilometer runway has been successfully tested in Japan.

There are many arguments in favor of expanding real estate onto water. The idea may seem utopian from today’s perspective, not least because of high costs and imponderable risks. But as institutionalization advances, the risks will become more calculable. Clear planning guidelines and deed registrations are intermediate steps on the way to accepting floating real estate. So keeping this kind of real estate in mind for the future is a safe bet.

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