This past January, Waterstudio.NL released their concept of the Sea Tree. They claim that an undisclosed client is already interested and they plan to have the structure realized within two years. The idea for the Sea Tree came to solve the urban density crisis. As our cities become denser, the difficulty and cost to set aside land for nature has continued to increase.
The multi-layered tower-esque structure is intended for the harbors and rivers surrounding cities. Much of the buzz is because of the project’s break from traditional architecture. Its intended client if flora and fauna only. A cable system allows movement and secured the structure to the sea bed. The underwater habitat is intended to thrive just as much as the above portion.
While I think the concept has admirable intentions, there are two important points to discuss. This is not at all a solution to our urban density issue. These ‘trees’ will not maintain thriving ecosystems that will continue to support the human population and the core idea for the project is sending the wrong message. Yes, we need to save the environment and the ecosystem, but we also need it to save us.
“The beauty of the design is that it provides a solution and at the same time does not cost expensive space on land, while the effect of the species living in the sea tree will affect a zone of several miles around the moored location.”
Essentially, these trees are islands… or concentration camps for nature, if you want to go dark and extreme. (In case you’re thinking, ‘but birds are free to fly where ever,’ yes, they can but if they have nowhere else to fly to, then we’re back to the idea of isolation). I agree that they can act as supplements, but we should by no means rely on them and cease to improve the environment within the cities. The ecosystem is all sorts of complex. Different flora and fauna require different scales of environments, some require the network system of corridors to maintain biodiversity, and they all rely on each other whether we realize it or not. These Sea Trees would only address a small portion of the ecosystem and nothing to the scale of what urban development takes over.
My second point is the message I took away was that at the core of the project there’s this idea that nature and humans are separable, that they can live over there while we live over here. In addition to disagreeing with this, I think we should take advantage of our dependence on the ecosystem. It’s hard to argue this point because there’s little data on how much our environment costs (aside from land values), but setting aside land for the flora and fauna also gives us benefits. It’s a means of water management, quality control, and a source of mental and physical health. We have to compare the cost of preserving a block of land to the collective’s health bills, the city’s water management infrastructure, etc.
I think this project is very interesting and unique, but in my opinion it’s not the solution to urban density as it may have intended to be. Also, this project has the potential to be dangerous, because without clarity of discussion people may view this as THE solution and give up on the fight for the incorporation of nature within the city.
Image credit: © Architect Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio.NL