Architect Koen “the Floating Dutchman” Olthuis of Dutch firm Waterstudio has dedicated much of his career to uprooting building typologies from their usual terrestrial confines: multi-family housing, hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, vacation homes, mosques — you name it, Olthuis can envision it surrounded on all sides by water.

With the usual focus on rising sea levels and rapid urbanization, one of Waterstudio’s more recent creations — a concept first unveiled in 2012 that’s been making the rounds again — presents an intriguing departure for Olthuis. Dubbed Sea Tree, the concept in question still falls under the “floating housing” category, but unlike past Waterstudio projects, it’s not geared for human habitation. Rather, it’s an offshore housing complex designed strictly for animals — birds, bees, bats and other small animals up top and a variety of marine creatures down below the surface — that have been forced out of their habitats by urban development. Or, alternately, the curious-looking tiered tower would attract vital wildlife to cities otherwise lacking in available green space.

Moored to the seabed using cable technology that’s not too dissimilar from the technology found in offshore oil platforms, Waterstudio describes the gently bobbing-along Sea Tree as the “first floating object 100 percent built and designed for flora and fauna.”

Waterstudio elaborates:

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 effect a zone of several miles around the moored location.

Inspiration came from a project in Holland where ecologists forced us to provide habitats for animals which couldn’t be disturbed by people. Water is of course a perfect way to keep people away. The shape of a floating oil storage structures in Norway brought another inspiration combined with regular shapes of tree with a big crown in top.

The concept idea is that we took park zones in urban areas, we divided this in pieces and put them vertically on top of each other, at the end it became a vertical hangout for wild life!

I do wonder, however, if people would indeed show respect and give a Sea Tree the distance that it calls for. Obviously, when you classify something as off-limits — in this case, a floating Shangri-La for wildlife that looks like an off-kilter hourglass — it usually means our desire to see it, to experience it, is even greater.  I can just picture a sizable looky-loo flotilla surrounding one of these offshore animal refuges depending on how close they are to the shoreline. (I’m guessing pretty close so that its residents can comfortably swim or fly there). And what if an interloper does actually manage to infiltrate a Sea Tree? I imagine the outcome would either be along the lines of a Disney cartoon or a nature-centric horror movie from the 1970s.

With an estimate cost of 1 million euros per Sea Tree, Olthuis tells Co.Exist that he’s singled out New York City and Mumbai, dense urban areas with plenty of offshore real estate to spare, as ideal locations to test out the concept. 

Via [Co.Exist] via [Quartz]

Related on MNN:

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.