Energy and water autonomy for off-grid waterfront floating structures

Waterfront communities are the most susceptible to climate change and to extreme weather events. Beyond the risk of flooding itself, centralized water and energy systems are prone to failure under dynamic storm conditions; the connectivity of sewage and water supply in waterfront neighborhoods is often compromised during storms. In 2012, during Hurricane Sandy, supply and distribution chains to Red Hook, Brooklyn were disrupted and sewers were backed up, which resulted in untreated wastewater flooding the streets.

Rendering of a floating waterfront prototype
A waterfront floating laboratory prototype. (Image: Thread collective + Oasis Design Lab)

The RETI Center’s BlueCity Lab (BCL) project was born in response to these failures. The BCL will be a water-borne physical space and community support structure sited in Red Hook’s Gowanus Bay. Similarly, the Philadelphia Water Department has been working on a floating classroom on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

The Thermal Architecture Lab at the Weitzman School is part of a collaboration with the RETI Center and the Water Center at Penn, to develop energy and water autonomous systems for off-grid floating structures that are designed to adapt to rising waters. In past demonstrations in the Netherlands, such structures have proved capable of withstanding sea level rise as well as the increased frequency and intensity of storms. However, because of their siting on water, they present a major operational challenge: they must operate off-grid as connections to central water and energy infrastructure become difficult or even unfeasible. Instead, such structures must be designed to be self-sufficient; their requirements raise specific questions on water and energy autonomy at the building scale.

This story is by Dorit Aviv. Read more at The Water Center at Penn.