Ocean cities. Settlements in seas. Famed writer Jules Verne was on to something with “Propeller Island,” after all.
In this account, we explore some of the most ingenious ways in which human settlements have taken a marine form that thrive in modern times, while paying respects to some real-life versions of Atlantis found below the waves.
10. MS The World
The brainchild of Knut U. Kloster, MS The World is remarkable and globally unique condo at sea. With everything from sports facilities to a grocery store, this “largest residential yacht on the planet” is an apartment ship with 165 residential apartments, in total measuring 644 feet, 2 inches long and 98 feet wide. A board of directors elected by the residents, plus committees, plan out the ship’s travel routes, budgeting and on-board activities, along with shore stops.
The attractive vessel is a place to reside, with its fully livable apartments that range from its little studio residences to middle ground studio one or two-bedroom apartments, regular two-bedroom apartments, all the way up to three-bedroom suites with a full range of amenities. One to three expeditions (typically informed by 20 or more relevant experts, for planning) take in culture, scenery, and natural history of places like Madagascar, the British Isles/Hebrides, and the Northwest Passage.
9. Kansai International Airport
A masterpiece of Japanese engineering, Kansai Interntional Airport, opened in 1994, is an airport in the middle of the sea. Well, in the middle of Osaka Bay, offshore of Japan’s main island, Honshu, to be exact. Originally planned to be floating, the airport was instead built on sand, creating a runway-shaped construction surrounded by water, with all the amenities expected at an airport.
The airport is connected to Honshu by a narrow strip for rail and road transport, and has been judged as an engineering disaster due it its history of sinkage into the soft sands and mud of Osaka Bay and the subsequent costs. The airport nevertheless received recognition as an American Society of Civil Engineers “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium” award recipient in April 2001. The airport notably weathered a 120 mile-per-hour typhoon in 1998 and survived the 1995 Kobe earthquake without destruction despite the thousands of deaths on Honshu.
8. Jules’ Undersea Lodge
While not quite a full city or even a town, Jules’ Undersea Lodge is a most unique hotel that requires SCUBA certification for guest access. Located in Florida, the structure is located 21 feet below the waves. Celebrity visitors to the lodge have included Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler and former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau.
The lodge itself is located in a mangrove environment with 42-inch windows while hot showers, music and movies, beds with a view of wild fish outside, and a kitchen containing a microwave and fridge are present in the lodge. A variety of stay packages ranging from just a few hours to a full overnighter are available, along with dive training if the required certification is not already held by visitors.
7. Palm Islands
The United Arab Emirates is a land home to some of the world’s most remarkable feats of marine engineering. Take the Palm Islands, a set of stunning marine archipelagos with rays and centerpieces that can be most fully appreciated from aerial views or space photographs. The islands include Palm Jumeirah, a precisely palm leaf shaped archipelago, Palm Deira Island, and Palm Jebel Ali, located along the Dubai coastline. Started in 2001, the developments contain a vast array of dwellings and commercial buildings constructed on the rays and stems. Breakwaters protect the construction works on the islands.
The project scale was most impressive. The first of the Palm Islands, Palm Jumeirah, utilized a whopping 3 billion cubic feet of sand, dredged from the Persian Gulf, built into the palm shape with GPS, while mountain rock totaling seven million tons was used to form the seven-mile breakwater protection system. Near the Palm Islands are two more human-made archipelagos, The World, named after its construction in the likeness of a map of the Earth, and The Universe, built to resemble the Milky Way Galaxy.
6. Neft Dashlari (Oily Rocks)
Extending from overturned scrapped tankers and connected by trestles and pipes is an expansive ghost city in the Caspian Sea. Located off the coast of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Neft Dashlari, or Oily Rocks, is one of the strangest urban areas on the planet. A ramshackle yet industriously constructed network of oil drilling facilities, stores, and apartment buildings stands bizarrely perched throughout the settlement. Neft Dashlari gained the amenities of an entire town including stores, educational facilities, and homes, plus libraries and service centers. Dormitories with five stories and hotels were among the grander structures built.
The community was literally built on top of overturned ships, which serve as building foundations. The site holds the Guinness World Record for being the first ever offshore oil platform. Neft Dashlari is now largely abandoned, with only some settlement remaining. A dark episode in the history of Neft Dashlari was the perhaps less than surprising, with the disappearance of three workers following the collapse of living accommodations into the Caspian Sea.
5. The Boat City of Aberdeen Harbour
Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, has a complicated cultural history. Aberdeen Harbour exists in stark contrast to the towering and densely clustered skyscrapers for which Hong Kong is famous. Here in the harbor, there are large congregations of boats on which dwellers live and work. Restaurants are included in the amenities offered by the “boat city,” adding significantly to the tapestry of the village as a unique attraction.
Despite some viewing the floating neighborhood as a visual disturbance, the boat city is gaining an established place in Hong Kong’s culture. Movie depictions of Hong Kong make good use of the boat city for both panoramic views and as the setting for great action scenes. In historic times, the pirate life of the boat city was colorful, to say the least.
4. Ko Panyi
The image is incredible. One of Thailand’s most fascinating sights is the aerial view of Ko Panyi. With multi-colored roofs, the buildings of the village on stilts extend outward in a rough question mark shape around the base of a precipitous stony island, formed from a single mini-mountain that rises from Phang Nga Bay. Ko Panyi is in southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Province on the Malay Peninsula, between the Thai border with Myanmar to the north and Malaysia to the south.
A testament to the resourcefulness of its founders, Ko Panyi was established by Toh Baboo, friends and family who were Muslim ocean travelers who arrived around 200 years back but were unable to settle on land as foreigners upon arrival in Thailand. Today, the 300 families numbering almost 1,500 individuals live in the village that clusters around the rock. Dwellings, restaurants, a mosque, and even a floating football pitch are among the features of the village.
3. Fadiouth, Senegal
In the African nation of Senegal, a section of coastline known as Petite Côte is a village of fishers that is divided between a land-based section of settlement, Joal, and a much stranger island portion of the village, Fadiouth. Joal-Fadiouth’s two sections are connected via a wooden footbridge, 1,312 feet in length. Fadiouth is bizarre because it is on an entirely human-made island, and that island is made from discarded yet rather precisely placed seashells.
Over the last century (and more), villagers have been toiling at a two-fold project. On one hand, they have been harvesting marine mollusks for food, and on the other, casting the shells aside. This has created the huge midden that grew into the island supporting Fadiouth. Fastened by mangrove roots and other coastal wetland plants, the shell island resists the tides. The theme everywhere is shells. The famous cemetery is made of shells, while streets and buildings sport shells. The population is Christian and Muslim and is known for its close community held together by residential embrace of religious diversity.
2. Halong Bay Floating Villages
Vietnam is home to a spectacular floating village group that has achieved world recognition for its cultural and architectural uniqueness. Amongst pillar-like mountains that emerge from the waters of Halong Bay are four floating villages comprised of multiple buildings on rafts that form a fishing community. The four villages in Halong Bay contain 1,000 villagers and are named Cua Van, Ba Hang, Vong Vieng, and Cong Tau.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the villages provide a base for fishing lobster, shellfish, finned fish, and squid. Larger vessels resemble land-based houses in their design, while smaller boats are moored to the dwelling boats, which can themselves move around or anchor to neighboring dwellings to allow convenient forays through the bay. The largest village, Cau Van, hosts the Floating Cultural Center, which seeks to preserve the villages under the auspices of the Ha Long Ecological Museum.
1. Urban Rigger
A floating apartment is a novel concept and even more-so when the apartment complex is made of upcycled structures. The Urban Rigger project in Copenhagen, Denmark is just such a remarkable development, with 72 studio apartments for students fashioned from shipping containers. Floating by the shoreline in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Refshaleoen, the project was designed by Bjarke Ingels Group after being first dreamt up by original founder Kim Loudrup, who encountered great challenges in finding his son student housing in Denmark.
Students appreciate the sustainable, livable design of the mini community on the water, the first residents having arrived in 2018. The shipping containers that make up the apartments focus on making the best use of natural light and are fitted with their own bathrooms and kitchens, while common areas include gardens, a gym, and laundry facilities. Residents can go for a swim right from their doorstep.