What will the cities of the future look like? Well, according to one pioneering Japanese firm, they could be underwater.
Japan's Shimazu Corp claims they will be able to create an entire underwater city, complete with hotels and research facilities, in 15 years time.
Dubbed 'Ocean Spiral,' Shimazu claims the city of 5,000 will “capitalize on the infinite possibilities of the deep sea” and could lead to a new type of urban living for an increasingly changing world.
The artist's rendering shows a massive sphere of 500 meters in diameter which will house the main business and residential zones. This will float just below the surface of the ocean and will be connected to the sea floor via a 15 kilometer long spiral path which will descend 3-4km under water.
On the seabed will be scientific facilities and an 'earth factory' which will extract energy from the sea floor by using micro-organisms to turn carbon dioxide into methane. Furthermore, power generators located along the spiral will generate power via a process known as ocean thermal energy conversion.
All told, this endeavor will cost Shimazu - who are known for their ambitious construction projects - around 3 trillion yen ($24 billion). Faced with this astronomical cost, Shimazu is turning towards other corporations and governments for funding. Shimazu spokeman Hideo Imamura told The Guardian:
This is a real goal, not a pipe dream. The Astro Boy cartoon character had a mobile phone long before they were actually invented – in the same way, the technology and knowhow we need for this project will become available.
This isn't the first time something like this has been suggested in Japan. The country, known for its technological prowess, has long considered the idea of 'techno-utopias', often in response to environmental issues. Japan is particularly at risk from rising sea-levels and earthquakes, leading some researchers to posit the possibility of non-traditional, non-land-based cities. Christian Dimmer, an assistant professor of Tokyo University's urban studies department, explains further:
We had this in Japan in the 1980s, when the same corporations were proposing underground and ‘swimming’ cities and 1km-high towers as part of the rush to development during the height of the bubble economy. It’s good that many creative minds are picking their brains as to how to deal with climate change, rising sea levels and the creation of resilient societies – but I hope we don’t forget to think about more open and democratic urban futures in which citizens can take an active role in their creation, rather than being mere passengers in a corporation’s sealed vision of utopia.
Shimazu's other ambitious projects include a lunar base, space hotel and floating botanical cities.
Are Underwater Cities Possible?
The concept of large underwater habitats has also appeared in several science-fiction films, such as The Abyss, Deep Blue Sea and The Spy Who Loved Me. They're also an element in some major video games, the most notably of which is surely Bioshock's Rapture. In this underwater corporate 'utopia', Ayn Randian objectivism has been allowed to run rampant. Unfortunately, things do not turn out well, despite the city's gleaming exterior. Check out Rapture's grand reveal below.
However, can humans actually live underwater for long periods of time?
Well, clearly it is possible. Indeed, submarines are essentially mobile underwater habitats and some modern nuclear powered submarines are able to remain submerged indefinitely (or at least as long as supplies last).
Actually creating a feasible underwater structure is more challenging, although it has been successfully conducted. For example, Jacques Cousteau was instrumental in developing three underwater Continental Shelf Stations off the coast of Marseilles, Sudan and Nice, France in the 1960s.
Conshelf Two, in particular, was the first ambitious attempt at underwater living. It saw 6 oceanauts living 10 meters under the sea in a starfish-shaped house for 30 days. An even more ambitious habitat was Conshelf Three, which was at the depth of 102.4 meters. There, the inhabitants performed various scientific and industrial tasks to show proof of concept for underwater research facilities.
There are currently only three underwater laboratories in operations, although only one of them is dedicated to actual underwater research. The Aquarius lab was constructed off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys in 1986. It currently sites at the depth of 62 feet and is the home to researchers for up to a month at a time. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, Aquarius hasn't performed any major research projects since 2012. In October 2014, the site passed over to the Florida International University, with the hope they can continue to fund research.
Also off the Florida coast is Marine Lab, the longest serving underwater habitat. It has continually operated since 1984 and sits at a 9 meter depth also off the coast of Key Largo. However, Marine Lab is now mostly used for recreational visits from paying customers, as opposed to serious marine research. It even boasts pizza delivered by divers.
Of course, none of these habitats are anywhere near the scale proposed by Ocean Lab, while they are also not continually inhabited by the same individuals.
Do you think Ocean Spiral will become a reality?