It sounds like something that would be the setting for an epic Kevin Costner-type film, but instead the idea of an underwater city is being proposed by a Japanese company as a concept for the future construction of sustainable cities. The spherical city looks very much like a robotic jellyfish with a long, coiling tentacle that serves to generate thermal power by utilizing the difference in temperature of the water near the surface and that of the deeper sea.
The company developing the underwater city concept, Shimizu Corporation, has been working on this project in conjunction with Japanese universities and other national agencies. Project spokesperson Hideo Imamura explained Shimizu’s interest in developing such a project:
“The deep sea contains enormous possibilities that can possibly help ongoing environmental problems throughout the world.”
One of the ways that Shimizu has envisioned the Ocean Spiral project providing a benefit to the environment is the capacity built into the city’s structure to send carbon pollution generated by land-based power sources to the sea floor to be consumed by microorganisms that would convert it to methane gas. A brief mention was made also of the potential for harvesting resources from the sea floor but the company was quick to note that it would not be mining in the traditional sense, but rather possible new systems that mimic natural processes more akin to harvesting.
The proposed underwater living space would descend for 75 stories, becoming the ultimate in high density, vertical construction that has long been hailed as the answer to the sprawling suburban nightmare that has denuded so much of the world’s landscape. The bottom of the sphere would contain tanks for acquaculture allowing for the ‘in sphere’ production of much of the food necessary to sustain the city. Further portions of the plan address how to tether the urb-orb to its spot and keep it from drifting off with the currents as well as the creation of a sea wall to keep large waves away.
The sphere itself needs to be constructed in the water and for that Shimizu has turned to the idea of 3D printing as a method of production. Their hope is to develop an enormous 3D printer capable of working under such conditions to produce the shell. The construction industry has long been experimenting with ways of integrating the magic of 3D printing into their production techniques, but this is certainly the most demanding request I’ve seen made of the machines.
If the city were to be built, it is estimated that it would require at least $26 billion to complete, but the location of funding isn’t necessarily the biggest problem facing this concept. While it’s fascinating to imagine such oceanic colonization, there is no way to guarantee a smooth transition or any way to foresee all of the potential problems related to such an alien adventure. Clearly, we are not at a point where we can begin picking out our emergency SCUBA gear for our new underwater housing, but it is an idea worth exploring and one that seems a great deal more feasible than previous fantasies involving lunar villages or townships on Mars.
Given the relative success of the International Space Station, however, this concept may not be as far away as it seems… but if anybody tries to sell you a time share now, I’d tell them that you’ll have to call them back later.
What do you think about the Ocean Spiral project? Does this seem like the wave of the future? Let us know your thoughts over at the 3D Printed Ocean Spiral forum thread at 3DPB.com