This Forest Will Grow Floating In Rotterdam’s Harbor

For a city that’s below sea level and covered in water, getting more green space involves looking toward the ocean.

When a city is below sea level, maybe it makes sense that a new city forest should float. In the Dutch city of Rotterdam, some neighborhoods aren’t just below sea level–they’re as much as 20 feet below, and over a third of the city surface is already covered in water. In March, a group of artists there will start to plant trees in the harbor instead of on land.


The art project, called Bobbing Forest, was inspired by a smaller sculpture in an aquarium that had miniature models of trees bobbing up and down on plastic floats that are usually used in fishing.

“I saw this work and thought it was fantastic,” says Jeroen Everaert, founder of Mothership, an art production company based in Rotterdam. “I asked the artist, Jorge Bakker, if he’d like to make a real one.”

For the last three years, a team worked to develop a prototype for floating trees, planted in sea buoys recycled from the North Sea. There were challenges. “The trees have problems with sea sickness,” says Everaert. “When there are waves, you see the sea buoys dancing on the water, and the trees are really moving roughly.”

Working with students from a nearby university, they discovered that a particular tree, the Dutch Elm, was sturdy enough to thrive as it floats. The tree can also handle a little saltwater.

The project will replant 20 trees that have been moved from other parts of the city during construction. It’s a way to bring a little more green space–and the many benefits of trees–to the harbor, and it might serve as a model for future parks. But for now, the artists just want to make a statement.

“I thought, maybe this is the future we get as the sea is rising,” says Everaert. “We’ve got a problem in how to solve green nature and the sea. It’s something to think about–what’s going to happen in the near future if we do nothing in the Netherlands. We live protected by dykes, and we’ve forgotten that we live under the sea.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.