'Rising Oases' project imagines a city of airborne architecture

Updated 13th November 2019
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'Rising Oases' project imagines a city of airborne architecture
Written by Kieron Monks
One of the downsides of living in a major city is the lack of space.
Packed train carriages, shoebox apartments, and traffic jams are among the regular reminders that space is a rare luxury in the most populous hubs.
But what if we could rise above it all, leaving the crowds and traffic behind for a peaceful haven in the urban skies?
This is the captivating premise of the "Rising Oases" project from Professor Georges Kachaamy, director of the Center for Research, Innovation and Design at the American University in Dubai (AUD).
Kachaamy's floating architecture, more than a decade in development, is one of the star attractions on display at Dubai Design Week from November 11-16. "Rising Oases" sketches out a possible future in which there are "platforms inside the city where humans can unwire themselves from their daily restraints."
The architect's visions of untethered spaces hovering over city streets might seem far-fetched, but he believes in them.
"When you realize the possibilities you truly believe it is not so far away," he says. "This is not science-fiction."
Professor Georges Kachaamy with one of his prototypes.
Professor Georges Kachaamy with one of his prototypes. Credit: Courtesy of Georges Kachaamy

Inch by inch

Kachaamy first conceived of floating architecture as a student in Japan 13 years ago, and the quest has become increasingly serious. For the past five years he has been steadily increasing the size of his models.
"When I started generating prototypes it was in miniature dimensions almost 10 centimeters long," he recalls. "Now the current prototype is almost two meters long - so the next one will definitely be bigger."
The professor has experimented with different technologies for his floating models.
The current system makes use of magnetic levitation - sometimes shortened to "maglev" in its application with frictionless, high-speed trains - that works by lifting an object through the force of two opposed magnets.
Kachaamy uses 3D-printed, ultra-light plastic material for the prototypes, to maximize the size of the object the magnetic force can lift.
"You have to find an equilibrium between the weight of architecture and the strength of technology," he says. "Then you can achieve greater heights and more impressive prototypes."
China unveiled the prototype of a new magnetic levitation train it claims will be capable of traveling at 600km/h in May 2019.
China unveiled the prototype of a new magnetic levitation train it claims will be capable of traveling at 600km/h in May 2019. Credit: Courtesy CRRC

Efficiency and resilience

The potential benefits of levitating architecture are many and varied.
Transcending space constraints could allow for more efficient planning, with less land required for construction, and less pressure on green spaces that could be preserved or expanded.
Floating architecture could also build resilience to natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding.
Then there is the intangible value of "accomplishing the impossible" as Kachaamy puts it, rewriting the received wisdom and pushing at perceived limits.
"This is not solely about whether (floating architecture) can be realized or not," he says. "It is also an opportunity to think of plausible future environments."
"There is no better way to create the future than to think, imagine, and design it."
Floating architecture could offer sustainability solutions.
Floating architecture could offer sustainability solutions. Credit: Courtesy of Georges Kachaamy

Mapping the future

Kachaamy says he has a roadmap to creating ever larger and higher prototypes, all the way up to full-size model, which he hopes to achieve in his lifetime.
Much of his work is devoted to researching emerging technologies and materials that might enable such a breakthrough. One of his next targets is for a full-size floating roof.
Magnetic levitation experts have cautioned that the technology offers only limited height -- Kachaamy's prototypes hover just a few inches above their magnetic base -- and remains prohibitively expensive.
But there is growing interest and innovation in levitating architecture.
Chinese architects Zeyu Cai and Sibei Li recently won a competition to come up with a design for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after fire damage with a levitating spire (although this is unlikely to meet the French parliament's requirements for a faithful reconstruction).
Kachaamy also points to the development of maglev elevators that move sideways and diagonally as well as vertically, powered by magnetic fields, as another encouraging sign - and a problem solved.
"This is the only way my architecture could be accessed," he says.
Such designs may never come to fruition. But in a city that has already colonized the ocean, one man's mission to populate the skies is underway.