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Imagine you’re in a college-level architecture class and your assignment is to come up with an idea so revolutionary that it could be considered an important advance in industrial design.
Students at Rice University in Houston accomplished that with plans for a floating city that is being considered by one of the world’s largest oil companies. Last year, the students won the inaugural Odebrecht Award for a radical design of man-made floating islands where as many as 25,000 oil workers and their families could live for extended periods of time.
“We started focusing in around Brazil and into the oil industry, and one of the fascinating things with the oil industry in Brazil is that it’s all offshore,” says professor Neeraj Bhatia. His fourth-year Rice University architectural students focused on a 600-kilometer [373-mile] area off the coast of Brazil called the Campos, Santos and the Libra Oil Basins.
“We saw this crisis, this logistical crisis that was emerging as the newer [oil findings] were further and further offshore,” Bhatia says.
The newer discoveries push the limits of normal helicopter range. That means getting to and from work on the oil platforms is both expensive and a grind. So the Brazilian oil company Petrobras is looking for a new, better way for its employees who must work on these platforms.
“And I think what was interesting was being able to affect their lives both at the human level, basically how they go about their day, and then in the broader sense we could change the way that those accumulated lives affected the whole industry,” says Alex Yuen, one of the Rice students on the project.
Their solution seems right out of an Arthur C. Clarke novel. The class designed three large floating islands that are surrounded by 42 smaller islands. These smaller islands would provide the larger hubs with among other things, crops and electricity through solar and wave power. The three main hub islands would be as large as 1 kilometer by 2 kilometers [0.6 by 1.2 miles] and would be a mix of residential, office and industrial centers.