Tech Innovation

Japan’s waterborne solar farm and other fantastic floating structures


In cities across the world, space for large building projects is often at a premium. One solution is to build up – the 163-floor, 828 metre-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai incorporates a hotel, residential apartments, offices and restaurants. Another is to build out, using rivers, reservoirs, lakes and coastal waters. Ultimately, some of the world’s most innovative structures aren’t fixed, they float.

The floating solar farms will power 920 homes

Kyocera TCL Solar, for example, has recently completed two floating solar power plants (pictured above) in Japan’s crowded Hyogo Prefecture. These waterborne photovoltaic farms don’t sacrifice any precious land. Instead, they have been installed on two reservoirs in Kato City and, with 11,256 floating PV modules between them, they could generate an estimated 3,300 megawatt hours (MWh) every year. That’s enough electricity to power 920 homes.

Over in New York, the problem of prison overcrowding was eased by the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center, an 800-bed ‘jail barge’ moored on the East River.

Vernon C Bain Correctional Center
The Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center is an 800-bed floating prison moored on New York’s East River. Image:

While other prison ships have since closed (including the UK’s HM Prison Weare, which was berthed in Portland Harbour, Dorset until 2006), the 47,326-ton lockup is the world’s largest hulk of its kind according to the Guinness World Records.

On a smaller scale, the headquarters of Arctia Shipping is a poster-child for floating office space. Designed by K2S Architects, the building’s sleek lines and black metal facade complement the look of the Finnish company’s huge icebreaker fleet.

Arctia Shipping HQ
The floating headquarters of Arctia Shipping is located on the same dock as its fleet of icebreakers. Image: K2S Architects.

Crucially, the HQ is situated on Merikasarmi pier right next to the ships that that Arctia owns. An internal water ballast system keeps the building stable.

SpaceX uses a floating landing pad

Most of the floating structures we’re looking at here are designed to stay in one place. The SpaceX autonomous spaceport drone ship, however, is an exception. The 300 x 100 foot landing pad for Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets isn’t anchored to the ocean floor. It uses powerful thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs to hold its position, even in a storm. One day soon, SpaceX will successfully land a rocket on one.

The SpaceX floating landing pad
The autonomous spaceport drone ship used by SpaceX is named Just Read the Instructions, after a spaceship in The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. Image: SpaceX.

The drone ship is an extraordinary design, a floating platform that works with water rather than against it. The concept is fundamental to the way that the architects at Dutch Docklands work and the guiding design principle behind surprising ideas like a floating cruise terminal, a floating beach and a 5-star floating hotel shaped like a giant ice crystal.

“We have changed our mindset from fighting against the water into living with the water by using the existing technology in completely new way,” says the company’s website.

The Dutch Docklands-designed Royal Indian Ocean Club in the Maldives is perhaps its most challenging project. Pitched as the world’s first floating 18-hole golf course, the fairways and greens will be built on artificial islands, interconnected by a dramatic underwater tunnel.

An underwater tunnel will connect many of the holes on a floating golf course in the Maldives. Image: Dutch Docklands.

As rising sea levels threaten the future of the Maldives, the golf course, its hotels, private islands and clubhouse don’t try to hold back the Indian Ocean. They embrace it. – Dean Evans

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