The Maas river runs through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and empties into the North Sea. It also carries huge amounts of Europe’s trash from its cities into the ocean. Inspired by what’s floating by, Dutch architect Ramon Knoester and his firm WHIM have spent the last four years dreaming up ways to turn one of our greatest environmental ills into built utopias on water. Knoester’s latest vision: Floating parks and villas.
In 2010, Knoester received a grant from the Netherlands Architecture Fund to develop a floating prototype out of hollow blocks of recycled plastic. His designs contained a prefab foundation that fit together like puzzle pieces, the roofs embedded with solar cells and energy derived from waves. Originally, Knoester intended the project for the North Pacific Gyre, which harbors a massive, swirling convergence of microplastics commonly called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” but eventually he realized he’d have to scale down. Harvesting plastic from the middle of the ocean proved too difficult and costly.
“We started really big, but the main problem for the North Pacific Gyre is that the plastics there are really hard to collect. So far this technology hasn’t been developed to our knowledge,” Knoester tells Co.Exist.
Knoester has adjusted his vision accordingly: Collaborating with students at Rotterdam University, local government officials, a chemist, a naval architect, and engineers, the Recycled Island project is now working on both housing and recreational areas built on debris collected at the mouth of the Maas in Rotterdam.
“Rotterdam is the last city the river runs through before it ends in the sea,” Knoester explains on the Recycled Island site. “Therefore, Rotterdam has a large potential in extracting the river’s floating waste before it reaches the sea and becomes part [of] the increasing floating oceanic debris.” Much of the city is also below sea level, Knoester adds. He claims that his floating environment is “climate proof and resistant to flood.”
Earlier this summer, Knoester published mock-ups of Re:Villa, a floating family home inspired by yachts. Unlike the luxury boats, Re:Villa aims to be self-sustaining, complete with a garden, compost toilets, and a rainwater filtration system. He also designed a public park on the water and plans to roll out a prototype of the experiment in a year.
“We think if we start with that, it’s a good beginning,” Knoester says. “And of course, if we can prove a floating habitat, and the technology for gathering plastic improves in the North Pacific Gyre, then hopefully we can develop it there.”