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The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.

The Petropolis of Tomorrow


Neeraj Bhatia, Visiting Wortham Fellow, School of Architecture, Rice University
Farès El-Dahdah, Associate Professor, Professor, School of Architecture, Rice University

/uploadedImages/Shell_Center/Research/Neeraj Bhatia-NB_IMAGE.jpg  /uploadedImages/Shell_Center/Research/eldahdah.jpg 
Neeraj Bhatia Farès El-Dahdah
Project Background   

The Petropolis of Tomorrowis a design and research project examining new Petropolises — cities formed from resource extraction — associated with offshore oil extraction in Brazil. The Libra oil field and newer discoveries are tending to be located further into the sea, prompting plans to develop a series of ‘floating frontier towns’. New ‘island hubs’ are being investigated to bridge distances and allow for efficient movement of people as well as storage of materials. These hubs would allow workers to be transported by boat to land, and connected to various rigs via helicopters. Operating as logistics centers, these hubs incorporate dormitories for workers and are beginning to include amenities such as auditoriums, gyms, and libraries. As these frontier islands take on more programs outside the production of oil, they start to act as micro-cities with a core population to support a public realm. Yet, several of these cities are conceived in service of production instead of as a new type of urbanism. While often developed as temporary settlements with few amenities and a series of social problems, in reality these cities exist for at least twenty years. Plans to make these hubs operational by 2017 provoke an investigation of how these new cities could be designed to account for social and environmental ecology as well as resource extraction. These new micro-cities create a form of water urbanism that constructs its own landscape yet interfaces with both industry and existing ecologies, and has rarely been addressed by designers. The Petropolis of Tomorrow aims to develop these floating frontier cities to account for social and cultural concerns while simultaneously addressing environmental challenges and economic opportunities. Key research/ design questions include:

  • How can new landscape, architecture, and infrastructure be integrated to make the collective public realm more robust and sustainable?
  • How can these cities operate completely autonomously from outside services by harvesting food, fresh water, and energy from their local environment (both natural and constructed)?
  • How can negative ecological effects of oil extraction be addressed in the design of these cities to leave no footprint once extraction is complete?
  • How can these developments be conceived with long-term, holistic planning to create a healthy environment and culture for resource extraction?
  • How can we design a symbiosis between resource extraction and sustainable urbanism?

To date, infrastructures tied to natural resource extraction have rarely been conceived with long-term, holistic planning. Despite a growing population on floating cities, little design energy has been afforded to the urban planning and landscape of these settlements. The intention of The Petropolis of Tomorrow is to engage and empower the unique social, cultural, environmental and economic challenges facing these new communities. The research/design work is organized into the following categories: (A) Culture (housing, arts, education, health), (B) Mobility (helicopters, boats) (C) Ecology (aquatic life, biology, effects of extraction), and (D) Resources (energy, food, water). The design research will be presented through the forum of a blog, exhibition and book.

Currently eight-six fixed and forty-six floating rigs serve as workplace for over 45,000 people. It is evident that these new cities are neither temporary nor small and need to be examined by designers to understand how both the networks and islands can be deployed in a sustainable manner. An estimated fifty new island platforms will need to be constructed in the upcoming years, making this the opportune moment to question and project a new system of sustainable water-based urbanism that uses natural and constructed landscapes to create a robust public sphere.

More at: www.petropia.org

Odebrecht Sustainable Development Award winner.

FPSO: Current floating islands are in the form of FPSOs.
Drawing by Bomin Park.

SITE: Area of Investigation — beyond the helicopter radius in the Campos and Santos Basins.
Drawing by Alexander Gregor.

WATER URBANISM: A liquid network of soft infrastructures provides a new template of urbanism.Drawing by Neeraj Bhatia. 

This Project is a collaboration between The South America Project (SAP), Harvard GSD and PUC-Rio de Janeiro. For more information, visit: http://www.sap-network.org/ 


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