California is suffering through its 5th year of severe water shortage. Aquifers and rivers continue to dry out as the water provided by melting snowpacks is reduced, and even the heavy rain brought by El Niño this year could not relieve the drought. Authorities are wary of the long-term consequences for California and neighboring areas of the Colorado River, and Santa Monica is now seeing a growing number of initiatives to control the use of potable water and find sustainable solutions.
Most recently, a competition asked architects, artists and scientists to conceive sustainable infrastructure projects to improve Santa Monica’s water supply. Bart//Bratke and studioDE developed a raft structure named “Foram” that illustrates the future of floating platforms in sustainable development.
Foram aims to desalinate sea water while providing a structure to educate people about water shortages. It is an amphibious pavilion supported on polyethylene boxes that floats along the Santa Monica coastline. The structure swells out into three “functional pockets” where visitors can learn about access to drinking water and the process of water purification. Each of the three protruding areas hosts a distinct activity – an eatery with self-grown food, a space for learning, and another for urban farming. At the pavilion’s center, a water bar also serves freshly desalinated H₂O.
The raft is covered by an organic-shaped roof made of a conduit system that transports water from the sea to desalination tanks, and then into clean water storage tanks. Similar to the raft plan in shape, the roof is rotated to allow for the collection of sea water in the spaces between the raft's three prongs. At the low points of the roof, pumps send sea water to higher areas where it flows into the desalination tanks. These tanks also work as solar ponds, and the conduit system similarly collects solar energy to pre-heat the water for desalination. The whole structure also creates a comfortable microclimate, thanks to a cooling mist system that is integrated into certain pipes, and the natural ventilation facilitated by the roof’s chimney-like shape.
Pavilions can plug into one another to form an ever-expanding megastructure, allowing units to exchange water and increasing the usable surface area. Unfortunately, the design program stays largely the same when units are connected, merely offering larger public areas for the public to wander around. Defining the functional zoning on a wider scale – thinking in terms of megastructure instead of single units – could have contribute to the project’s development, and the design's modular aspect thus seems like a missed opportunity. Notably, dedicating large areas of these floating platforms to urban farming could have been beneficial, given that agriculture suffers most in the Californian drought. Instead, BART//BRATKE mainly dedicated its Santa Monica design to the programmatic imperatives set by the competition, and urban farming – spread in small lots across the overall megastructure – only serves a didactic purpose, and not a productive one.
Nonetheless, BART//BRATKE imagines that its Foram raft could adapt to different locations, meeting different programmatic needs. As the architects explain, “the vessel can be applied globally wherever there is a need for fresh water and also is maneuverable which allows to bring Foram quickly into areas with an urgent need for fresh water” – a valuable trait, given the spread of water access issues across the globe. In an article about these global water shortages for The Observer, Robin McKie asserts that “the consequences are proving to be profound... More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.” With 71% of the Earth’s surface covered with seawater, combining desalination technology with floating architecture represent a powerful alternative; the Foram raft might be applicable to many more cases.
Correction Notice: This post has been updated since its original publication. The design was originally a 4th-Prize winning entry to a competition organized by the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI). However, after accusations that the design plagiarized a 2014 design named "Flow5" by AA Students Devika Chowgule, Maria Maria Diaz Usme, Izabella Lima, and Ronak Parikh, LAGI has taken the decision to remove the design from the competition. Therefore, the post has been updated to remove references to LAGI and the design's 4th place ranking.
However, The editors at ArchDaily do not believe the design to be plagiarized and therefore we have taken the decision to neither remove the article nor to credit the designers of "Flow5" for any role in the design of Foram.