The Hope Island project is a design proposal for a man-made atoll that is designed to house a marine research facility. It is also going to be the world’s first sovereign reserve.
The design of a man-made atoll led by Shannon Lim for Sylvia Earle and Liz Taylor as part of the Deep Ocean Exploration and Research Inc.
Climate change is happening and at a rapid pace. Faced with rising sea levels predicted to consume parts of - or even the entirety of certain countries in the near future; I believe it’s time to take matters into our own hands, in whatever way we can as traditional methods of land reclamation will no longer be feasible with the increasing shortage of usable sand.
This project will provide a safe space for the research of our natural world as well as an ecological sanctuary for neighboring wildlife - prioritizing the rehousing and protection of endangered species. All this without political affiliation as this island will be based in international waters.
The World's First
In the current socio-political landscape, the mainstream discourse surrounding technology is one that sits apart from the natural world where metropolises are built with people in mind and nature as a post urbanization discussion.
By situating a marine and ecological research facility in international waters, it merges research with its target subject and also acts as an experimental platform to test the use of architecture to improve the biodiversity in an exhausted area of the sea.
There would be a horrible irony in designing an ecological research facility if it’s going to have negative environmental impacts. Therefore, new construction materials and techniques are going to be tested on both land and sea.
Underwater flotation areas aim to use Reefblocks, a modular unit designed by Shannon Lim. (who is running this project in collaboration with Sylvia Earle and Liz Taylor as part of the Deep Ocean Exploration and Research Inc) Reefblocks make use of autoclaved aerated concrete, an inert substance that will be able to withstand corrosion, for its exterior. It is a hollow cube filled with recycled plastic and construction foam and then sealed to prevent the penetration of UV rays and the release of microplastics into the ocean. It’s porous exterior also allows for the attachment of coral larvae and other marine life to regenerate and attract marine life forms in the area.
Above ground, solar panels will be attached to the roof of the building that will double as shade for agricultural vegetation which will be produced on the building, integrated into pillars, walls and farmed on outdoor spaces. This will be also combined with natural farming techniques which have been tested as closed ecosystems in disused urban spaces by Shannon Lim as part of Onhand Agrarian in Singapore means that organic agriculture will be merged with tropical architecture as natural means to provide shade and protection from rain and sun on this tropical island situated near the equator.
Design as Speculation, Design as Change
Of course, with every design, there will always be flaws that can be critiqued upon. I believe further research should go into looking at more sustainable construction materials for the building itself and while concrete is the current choice as it will protect inhabitants from rough weather out at sea and such, it provides a poor amount of ventilation even if windows and openings are adapted for the cross ventilation of the interior.
Furthermore, as a designer, I am concerned about the construction of an island out at sea - while the aim is to use waste offcuts of other construction projects, the planned geographical location of it means that waste disposal will be a topic that needs to be addressed in order to ethically construct such a large structure for the purpose of conservation.
On top of that, there is the water that will be displaced if the future of architecture is out at sea. To prevent the worsening of rising sea levels, displaced water will have to be diverted and in that case, where would it go? Perhaps it could be an interdisciplinary project where saltwater is used to cool down tech servers and fresh water is given to people to drink instead.
With all that said, I strongly believe that designers and architects have to begin working on how to design for not just for the sake of our own self-preservation in mind but in collaboration with nature in a restorative way to undo all the damage caused in the past few generations.
This project is personal for me as the Singapore government has already prepared financially to mitigate the impacts of global warming and rising sea levels.
However, I believe that while mitigating the issue is a priority for the government, as a designer, it should be my priority to prevent the further destruction of our habitat.
With the urgency of climate change comes the pressing need to re-evaluate our urban environment with potential natural disasters yet to come. As a result, I believe that a bridge needs to be built for a future where society begins to integrate into a new urban landscape and way of life.
Back to the current project, however, with this new form of construction out at sea, how will it inspire future projects and engagement between subject and object. Will it inspire more people to explore the natural world? A better understanding of the deep sea? Research not just for the sake of data collection but to give back to what we have learned from? The reconstruction of the sea could spur a better understanding of ecosystems and how to regenerate them. It can be done in burnt down forests, caves invaded by tourists or even just our backyard.