Helena is the Lead Strategic Partner for OCEANIX, a blue tech company that designs and builds floating cities for humanity to live sustainably on the ocean.
OCEANIX is currently focused on the development of OCEANIX City — poised to become the world’s first resilient and sustainable floating community. Created in collaboration with Helena Member Bjarke Ingels’s architectural firm BIG, UN-Habitat, and other key partners, the City will house 10,000 residents across 75 hectares.
Completely modular and scalable, OCEANIX City is designed to grow, transform and adapt organically over time, creating a pathway to permanent and responsible human habitation on the ocean.
Everything about OCEANIX City — from its transportation, energy, water, and food systems to its marine habitat regeneration technologies and hyperlocal approach — is calibrated to transform our responses to emerging global needs and prepare for a future in which a significant portion of the world’s population requires a new, maritime home.
The imperative to rethink human habitation has never been more urgent than it is now. According to the UN, an estimated 90% of the world’s largest cities (housing 50% of the world’s population) are located on the ocean’s coasts — areas dangerously imperiled by volatile weather and rising sea levels due to climate change. Severe weather events accelerated by global warming cost an estimated 50 billion dollars in 2020 alone.
Compounded by explosive population growth, the UN estimates that climate change will displace roughly 200 million people each year by 2050, creating an unprecedented global housing and humanitarian crisis that will require first-principle, ground-up transformations of how we live and organize ourselves.
Floating cities are not a new concept.
In theory and in practice, they have occupied human imagination for centuries. Groups including the Tanka in China, the Bajau in Indonesia, the Moken in the Andaman sea, the Uros in Peru, and the Maʻdān in Iraq have lived on bodies of water for centuries. From Buckminster Fuller’s Triton City Project to the marine metropolises conceptualized by the Japanese metabolists, iterations of floating cities have addressed concerns both practical (commerce, food, transportation) and utopian (societal autonomy, egalitarianism).
The ocean is a vast resource that can either be harnessed for global and ecological good or exploited to devastating consequence as the need for sustainable housing solutions becomes more pressing. Imperfect interventions in this space already exist.
Precariously constructed on stilts and rafts, the stilted community of Makako in Lagos, Nigeria, epitomizes the kind of stop-gap measures improvised when adequate infrastructure and affordable housing are unavailable.
Massive land reclamation efforts in places like Southeast Asia are depleting finite resources and destroying marine habitats. OCEANIX is a fully realized, equitable, and wholly sustainable alternative to these models.
OCEANIX was founded in 2018 by Marc Collins Chen and Itai Madamombe.
Collins Chen was recruited from the private sector by his government to serve as Minister of Tourism for French Polynesia in 2007 and 2008. Tasked with assessing the threat of sea level rise in the South Pacific, he began to look at floating infrastructure as a potential adaptation to looming climate-related concerns. Many island communities face an existential crisis, as their homeland becomes uninhabitable.
An engineer by training, Collins Chen spent the next decade developing a model for an ocean community in Tahiti. But according to him, there would be no OCEANIX had he not met Itai Madamombe in 2017.
As a senior advisor to Ban Ki-moon, then Secretary General of the United Nations, Madamombe had spent the same decade cultivating multi-stakeholder partnerships focused on innovation and entrepreneurship on a global scale. She had a unique perspective, an extensive international network, and the skill set to rally diverse actors to solve intractable, networked challenges.
She was convinced floating communities were the right vehicle for complex problem-solving at scale and an ideal platform for the development of exponential and blue technologies. For Collins Chen, Madamombe’s strategy and unrelenting drive cracked the scope and ambition of OCEANIX open.
Madamombe proposed starting a boundary-breaking company to build full scale floating cities that are integrated and sustainable. She was hyper-cognizant of the advantage of tabula rasa– by virtue of never having been done before, expanding the built world onto the ocean presented a corollary opportunity to write the rulebook and shape the future of humanity.
Channeling their shared enthusiasm and complementary skills into a formal partnership seemed almost inevitable, though it would require dramatic life changes on both sides. Within the year, Collins Chen relocated from Tahiti to New York City and Madamombe left the UN to begin building OCEANIX.
The two studied historical and contemporary precedents in granular detail. They found designers of previous iterations tended to tackle one challenge at a time through a narrowly defined set of parameters. In contrast, the OCEANIX model would utilize the context of the city to address systemic, networked problems, including energy, and food systems. Such an integrated vision would require a multi-disciplinary team of world-class collaborators.
The OCEANIX co-founders were determined to bring the very best of humanity to bear on this bold and ambitious undertaking. Potential collaborators needed to be boundary-breaking but also value-aligned. At the same time, they were keenly aware of feasibility issues that reduced other versions of floating cities to utopian thought experiments. In order to achieve real-world implementation, Collins Chen and Madamombe recognized they would need partners with proven technical capabilities across design, engineering, and construction.
Given the criteria, Helena Member Bjarke Ingels’ architectural firm BIG was a natural fit for OCEANIX. Though major players on the world stage – to date the firm has completed 46 projects globally, with dozens under construction and many more more in various stages of development – BIG’s staff is uniformly younger than that of most firms of its stature. (In his mid-forties, Ingels himself has reached a pinnacle in his field decades earlier than most contemporaries). BIG’s youthful spirit is evident in risk-taking, forward-thinking work that includes a prototype for human habitation on Mars and a supersonic hyperloop transportation system.
To design OCEANIX City’s stable floating platforms, Collins Chen and Madamombe reached out to the Center for Ocean Engineering at MIT. The training ground for US Naval architects, MIT has been pioneering ocean science and engineering for over a century. Members of its program had previously worked with Buckminster Fuller on the floating Triton City in the 1960s.
Galvanized by the entirely new frontier floating cities represented and compelled by the integrity of OCEANIX’s approach, MIT came aboard. So did a slate of best-in-class partners including the leading engineering firm ARUP, Bouygues Construction, Mobility in Chain, Transsolar KlimaEngineering, Sherwood Design Engineers, HR&A, Global Coral Reef Alliance, Agritecture, and the Center for Zero Waste Design. These multifaceted perspectives position OCEANIX to set new standards and push industries forward.
The project needed partners outside the realm of science, design, and technology to achieve its cultural and community-minded goals. Artist and environmentalist Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio for Other Spaces became vital collaborators. The Explorers Club signed on to push scientific boundaries and new discoveries, infusing the undertaking with a sense of adventure.
From the outset, Collins Chen and Madamombe understood that governmental support was critical to the success of OCEANIX. UN-Habitat is a key partner and brings its vast experience working with governments at all levels — regional, national, and city. As the global leader on all things urban, UN-Habitat also brings its expertise on integrated urban planning and substantive issues such as climate change, affordability, as well as alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda.
OCEANIX unveiled its concept design at the UN’s first ever high-level roundtable on sustainable floating cities, hosted by UN-Habitat in April 2019.
As lead strategic partner, Helena is supporting OCEANIX across all aspects of its operations.
The Floating Cities project is crucially aligned with Helena’s mission to address intractable global problems and cuts across multiple sectors we believe are integral to creating a resilient future for humanity.
These sectors, which include clean energy, ocean sciences, exploration, and sustainable food and waste systems, represent key areas of executional dexterity for Helena. In addition, Helena’s diligence on our for-profit projects to date, all of which explicitly mitigate climate change related challenges in some capacity, gives us multidimensional insight into how to create the necessary ecosystem for a thriving blue economy. Beyond this, Helena’s unique institutional model allows us to consult global leaders in diverse fields as key advisors to the project.
OCEANIX’s Concept Design attains 1/10th the ecological footprint of cities like Paris. Not just sustainable, OCEANIX Floating Cities will actually regenerate the marine habitats on which they’re situated. Moreover, OCEANIX’s completely novel infrastructure and proximity to the ocean create unprecedented opportunities to incubate new climate technologies.
Beyond delivering massive environmental benefits, OCEANIX cities present one possible solution to the global affordable housing crisis. Collins Chen and Madamombe are committed to working hand and hand with governments and indigenous communities to provide for hyperlocal needs such as equitable housing. They are in discussions with multiple governments to deploy a prototype.
Being first in kind will give OCEANIX the opportunity to set global precedents in ocean building code, industry best practices, and sustainability – standards that will be easier to adopt than discard by subsequent actors in this sector. Much of what OCEANIX accomplishes on water will be applicable back on land.
OCEANIX City at scale will be the first living, breathing floating city for up to 10,000 residents across 75 hectares, and a preview of how millions of people will live during the rest of the 21st century.
The City’s core design principle is modularity.
The smallest “unit” of the metropolis is its two hectare neighborhoods, which are anchored but not permanently attached to the seabed. Each neighborhood houses up to 300 residents and features mixed-use buildings that are all under seven stories in height — a design choice which optimizes for both community cohesion and extreme weather resistance.
The next unit of the City are its villages, which result from the clustering of six neighborhoods around a central harbor. Twelve hectares in size and housing 1,650 residents, the villages use their sheltered inner harbor as a social hub, where most commercial and recreational structures are located.
Scale out further and OCEANIX City itself is created when six villages are combined in the same hexagonal formation, creating a large central city harbor at the city center. This is the City’s nexus of cultural, artistic, sport and commercial life, where floating structures and communal transportation connect each of the six villages together.
OCEANIX City’s construction centers around six central principles: net-zero energy, fresh water autonomy, plant-based food, zero waste systems, shared mobility and habitat regeneration. Each harnesses existing rather than future technologies, allowing for implementation now that can be continuously iterated upon as new concepts develop.
The City takes advantage of its location to harness as much energy from wave, wind, solar and other innovative sources as possible. Physical structures throughout the city utilize solar roofs, which can be topped by wind turbines. Ocean forces are converted into power by current generators and underwater wave energy converters, which are co-located with larger offshore wind turbines. Biofuels and other sustainable energy sources are produced via algae reactors connected to surface-level filtration systems.
When utilizing non-fossil fuel sources for energy production, storing that energy sustainably is a major requirement. The City utilizes a variety of technologies to address this, from compressed air energy storage to concrete flywheels, which are located in underwater building components.
Consuming energy with maximum efficiency is a central theme of the City. Buildings are structured to optimize for cross ventilation, significantly reducing the carbon-intensive usage of air conditioning systems. Windows and architectural structures are built to optimize sunlight access, reducing electricity consumption from heating and lighting.
Fresh Water Autonomy
OCEANIX City aims to achieve per-person water usage more than eleven-times lower than that of the average United States citizen, nearly seven times lower than the global average, and more than two times less than the average citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This is achieved through an entirely closed-loop water system, in which no wastewater or greywater is released into the ocean. OCEANIX utilizes existing technologies to collect and treat water for drinkability, ranging from roof-based rain and atmospheric water collection to renewable desalination facilities. Underground and next to the City’s energy storage technologies are water storage and treatment systems.
OCEANIX City eliminates the production of animal-based food products on its own land, massively reducing the strain on soil, energy and water needs. The diet will be predominantly plant-based, combined with locally produced seafood.
The city utilizes five core systems for plant-based production: outdoor farming, indoor farming (via greenhouses), aquaponics, vertical farming, and 3D ocean farming. The result is a 1,878 gram average daily diet for residents consisting of a breakdown of 470 grams of protein, 470 grams of carbohydrates, and 939 grams of fiber and other nutrients.
Zero Waste Systems
OCEANIX aims for the average citizen of the City to produce nearly two and a half times less waste than the average American, with a waste footprint per-capita that up to 90% less than that of that of New York City. The waste that is produced is utilized circularly via community compost gardens, anaerobic digesters, and compost-driven community gardens.Wherever possible, single-use products are not used in the first place and replaced with cost-competitive reusable alternatives.
OCEANIX City’s modular, hexagonal design yields significant advantages compared to other cities when it comes to mobility and transportation of all kinds. No fossil fuel-based motorized transportation is found in the City; instead, existing methods of electric, autonomous and shared systems thrive, from electric delivery cars, boats and passenger submersibles to unnamed aerial vehicles for delivery.
A resident of OCEANIX City might spend their average day walking or biking on up to three kilometers of city-wide paths or commuting through personal or shared boat pods, docking easily in the city harbor.
Constructing an entirely new model of a city means rethinking the basic materials used in construction.
Biorock, an ocean-based alternative to cement, is an example of this. Via a low-voltage electric current, the material trickles a charge throughout steel structures, preventing rusting or corrosion but allowing for the growth of beneficial solid limestone rock and regeneration of coral reefs, oysters, sea grasses, salt marshes, mangroves, fisheries, and coastal ecosystems where there is no natural recovery. It is also a major asset in extreme weather defense, capable of surviving extreme bleaching events.
Greywater is an umbrella term used to describe all water that does not come into contact with feces. It includes water from washing machines, showers, sinks, bathtubs, and similar appliances. Dumping grey-water into natural systems like rivers and oceans can be hazardous, as its resulting nutrients can yield pollutants. But utilized appropriately, greywater can be an asset in irrigation and other similar cases as a fertilizer in addition to other applications.
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Sometimes, we believe that the most effective method to implement a project is through non-profit action. These projects are designated as “non-profit” on their associated project pages on this website. This page is an example of such a project.
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