School of Civil Engineering

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Urban life on floating structures at sea is no longer something more likely to be found in science fiction, with experts estimating that large scale platforms could be a reality in less than a decade.

This comes as floating homes, storage facilities and even parks have been mooted as the answer to Singapore’s continued quest for land.

“We have been building higher and higher for the last 20 to 30 years. For going deeper, there is a limit to how far can you can go,” said Mr Lim Soon Heng, President of the Society of Floating Solutions (Singapore).

“With floating structures, you have such an enormous amount of space in the horizontal direction”.

FEEDING A HUNGER FOR LAND

Singapore is no stranger to creating additional land space on water. Since the 1960s, Singapore has reclaimed over 140 square kilometres of land, which is nearly a quarter of its original size.

It is now 724 square kilometres and growing, with an aim to pad itself up to 766 square kilometres by 2030.

However, land reclamation is becoming less viable as the country looks at the potential of deeper waters.

“It’s not like before when the waters were less than 10 metres deep. Now we’re talking about 25 or 30 metres, so the costs for reclaiming the land with sand is going to be enormous,” said Mr Lim.

WHY FLOATING STRUCTURES COULD BE A BETTER OPTION

On the other hand, floating solutions could offer a cost-efficient alternative.

“You can build a floating structure in a very short time, which means that you can monetise investment rapidly. Land reclamation takes several years before you can build anything on it,” said Professor Chien Ming Wang from The University of Queensland’s School of Civil Engineering.

According to Mr Lim’s estimates, building a float to support a bungalow would also cost as little as US$100 per square metre, while one for a skyscraper would cost US$1000 - 1500 per square metre.

He also noted that floating modules can be towed to wherever they are needed: “You put a structure on land like a building in Orchard Road, you're stuck with it in Orchard Road.”