New York City is struggling to find high ground in the face of rising water levels. With the imminent threat of partial flooding by 2050 inching closer, the city is trying to find alternatives to make up for land that may be submerged in a few decades. NYC-based architectural firm DFA is planning to build a number of elevated floating high-rises in the Hudson River to prevent the flooding of houses in the Big Apple.

The plans were unveiled in a proposal briefing earlier this month by DFA as a means to adapt the city’s Pier 40 to host several floating high-rises that serve both commercial and housing purposes. The pier, which is on the Hudson River at the end of Manhattan, was built in the early 1960s and has since fallen into disrepair. DFA plans to construct 19 cylindrical towers that will be between 96 to 455 feet (29 to 138 meters) and will have close to 450 affording and luxury housing units.

DFA’s plan stands out since the entire idea behind the buildings is that, if the city is to come under threat of flooding, the towers would remain above water. The towers will be supported with thousands of steel H-pile girders and reinforced with concrete sunken into the river. The towers will be supported by a number of pathways wrapping around the base of the towers placed above a pavilion. The pavilion would remain open until 2050, when water levels are expected to rise by between 11 and 30 inches (30 and 76 centimeters).

floating high-rises

Courtesy of DFA

“Beyond 2050, as regular flooding begins to engulf the coastline as we know it, the landscape deck transforms into a floating island with new pathways built to connect the evolved wetland ecosystem to Manhattan,” said DFA to Dezeen. The towers themselves are elevated by around 60 inches (1.5 meters) to preempt any kind of flooding that may occur in the area.

The imminence of the flooding of New York, often dramatized by Hollywood, is increasingly becoming a reality for the city and its residents. Between 2018 and the end of the century, the city is expected to be submerged by up to 75 inches (109 centimeters). “We see so many projects going up in New York that are quick, chart-driven responses to serious problems,” said DFA founder Laith Sayigh. “These short-term resolutions will not safeguard the city from rapid changes in the environment or protect future generations of people.”

There have been, however, other attempts to salvage what land has not yet fallen to rising sea levels in the city. For one, the city has been redrawing maps of New York City’s flood zones so as to incorporate land that has or may come under water due to rising sea levels; this was done in light of last year’s catastrophic hurricane season. The city is also working to install flood gates at several points which would be activated in the case of a flood to protect the city’s inhabitants.

This concept of floating high-rises or, in some cases, even floating cities, as a solution to rising sea levels in and beyond the United States has gained popularity in recent years. One project by the Seasteading Institute in San Francisco is trying to build entire floating cities in the Pacific Ocean in the face of growing climate change. In another scenario, former mayor of San Francisco, Art Agnos, brought forth a plan to build a floating homeless shelter that could hold up to 5,000 homeless individuals in an attempt to respond to the city’s struggle with homelessness.