20 May 2009

Seastead Design Contest Winners: Could Any of Them Survive On the Open Sea?

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These are the winners of the $2000 1st Seasteading Institute Design Contest, which closed for entries on May 1. The overall winner above -- "Swimming City" -- won a $1000 prize, and the category winners below each won $250. It is important to give The Seasteading Institute (TSI) full credit for creatively pushing the seasteading concept of "freedom on the high seas." All of the winners are certainly aesthetically pleasing. But can a person survive in the middle of the ocean on aesthetics?If a beautiful seastead capsizes in a storm, it becomes a beautiful wreck on the bottom of the ocean. Like the Titanic, such a seastead would be a magnet for filmmakers, adventurers, and treasure hunters. Those lost at sea in such a catastrophe would be properly mourned, no doubt. But why put one's faith in aesthetics, when basic nautical design precautions could produce a seastead that would actually be viable?These are the early stages of the seastead vision, and young, inexperienced visionaries are often drawn toward eye candy conceptualisations. As public relations devices, beautiful images can attract the attention of investors and potential participants. For that purpose -- attention grabbing -- the contest winners serve well. But most investors who invest their own money will be looking more deeply, toward viability and sustainability. Can it survive the worst the sea can throw at it? How will it pay for itself? How does it work at the nuts and bolts level?The design contest winners this year -- the 1st year of contests -- all seem to be built on the same basic support structure: multiple support columns holding up a rectangular or circular platform. The columns are presumably floating spars, but could conceivably be large piles penetrating the seafloor: the difference between a free-floating island seastead and a fixed-in-place platform seastead.All of the designs appear more suitable for sheltered bays, harbours, or inlets, rather than the open ocean. It is the type of design one might locate close to Sydney, Vancouver, San Francisco, or Venice. But would a floating multi-spar platform with these dimensions and superstructures survive long in the open ocean?

This goes to the heart of the purpose of a seastead. If its purpose is to create valuable real estate in the vicinity of a large city, designs such as those above might serve quite nicely. If the purpose is to create an independent micro-nation, free from the interference of oppressive statist societies, marine designers will need to dig more deeply in the well of the informed imagination.

I salute TSI for initiating the broad discussion of the seasteading and micronation concepts on the web and beyond. My only suggestion is an additional category for the design contest: the "open ocean, hell and high water" category. Winners in that category would need to possess the extra-aesthetic qualities that will allow a seastead and its inhabitants to survive and thrive in the unpredictable environment of the sea.

More: Here is an interesting "chat" on the TSI site regarding existing designs and structures that might be modified for seasteading (including oil rigs and used cruise ships)


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Blogger Patri Friedman said...

Fyi we spent $2k on the design contest and about $60k on the engineering analysis of the base platform which you see in each design. So that should give you an idea of our prioritization of eye-candy vs. Engineering. The base platform is sized for the waves in international waters off southern california, and can survive a 100 year storm in those waters. So while the designs are totally fanciful and have no engineering analysis of weight or strength, the base platform has real engineering behind it. All the reports are on our site.

Wednesday, 20 May, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the information, Patri. I'll take a look.

Of course, when such a base platform is built and actually survives a "100 year storm" off the SoCal coast, the engineering analysis will have been substantiated.

Wednesday, 20 May, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I first went to sea in 1974; my last trip was last year. Your projects are visually appealing, but I wouldn't have any desire to live on one through a major storm.

Wednesday, 20 May, 2009  
Blogger neil craig said...

Buckminster Fuller's floating city was declared by the US Navy Yards to be practical & economic over 40 years ago. It could probably be improved nowadays because newer materials are available but it looks like a good starting point.

Thursday, 21 May, 2009  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Can any of these designs handle the 150 foot "rogue" waves that occasionally appear in the open ocean?

Thursday, 21 May, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Interesting comments, thanks guys.

I had a chance to read through the engineering designs at seasteading.org, and must admit that the engineers have thought through a large number of critical details to make this new design as safe as possible.

With anything new, unanticipated problems always come up. That is to be expected and planned for.

In my experience, to create something entirely new, engineers need to be not only very careful engineers, but also something extra. It is that something extra which engineering schools have not been able to teach so far.

In fact, the entire school system of the US appears designed to beat that "something extra" out of every child it gets its hands on.

Thursday, 21 May, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Neil, the design at your link does not look suitable for the open sea.

Kurt, I don't think the basic platform would perform very well against either "super-rogue" waves, or against the sustained pounding the North Pacific Ocean or the South Sea around Antarctica would provide.

Check out the engineering reports at seasteading.org. The engineers have done some good work, but the ocean is an unforgiving beast. Untried designs have to prove themselves against the monster before they can be safely scaled up and allowed to proliferate.

Thursday, 21 May, 2009  

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