Floating Permaculture

Jaap Bakema Fellowship / NAI

Floating permaculture is the subject of Dietmar Koering’s project as Bakema Fellow, awarded by the Bakema Foundation, a collaboration between the Netherlands Architecture Institute and A10. Koering’s research and design project of floating permaculture is based on the observation that mankind parasitically exploits the world’s resources. His alternative is a synergetic system of food and energy production.

Floating permaculture is the subject of Dietmar Koering’s project as Bakema Fellow, awarded by the Bakema Foundation, a collaboration between the Netherlands Architecture Institute and A10. Koering’s research and design project of floating permaculture is based on the observation that mankind parasitically exploits the world’s resources. His alternative is a synergetic system of food and energy production.



_: Hydroponics

Hydroponics is a term which derives from the Greek. (hydro = water and ponos = labor). It describes a method, where plants where grown with the help of mineral nutrient solutions, water and with artificial soil. This technique will be essential for the “Floating Permaculture”. It is fact that nearly any terrestrial plant will grow with hydroponics, as long as the water delivers the essential mineral nutrients.
The use of Hydroponics becomes interesting as a self-efficiency system, if it is bound up with an Aquaponic system. It would be possible to grow fish and vegetables at the same time. It means that the catfish will expel nutrients in the recycled water in the term of waste, while bacteria will makes it available to plants. This is basically mentioned in Phase II later. Through this method, the water is enriched naturally with fertilizer; not as in common in the farming industry, where too much fertilizer are put in the ground.
Further benefit by using hydroponics is the faster and better food production. A negative side effect is the possibility that it is also an environment which stimulates salmonella. It would be interesting to see, which natural systems could be theoretically involved to minimize this effect. By using Mineral-Wool (rock wool) disease problems and thus use far less pesticides. Figures show that it is up to 90% less. A positive side effect of using rock wool for hydroponics is, that this material can be in many ways recycled. It can be chopped into granulate or be used in the compost, which results in a closed feedback loop.


Today permaculture is used as a system design tool
-looking at a whole system or problem
-observing how the parts of the system relate
-planning to replace defective systems by grafting ideas learned from long-term sustainable working systems
-enabling and optimizing feedback loops between key parts

In general permaculture deals with the setup of systems of human settlements and perennial agriculture, which try to mimic the relationships in natural ecologies; in a kind of way it is similar how biomimicry observes nature to improve certain materials.

Initially the term permaculture meant “permanent agriculture”, but through evolution it expanded also t “permanent culture” as it was seen that human being and it social aspects where part of a truly autonomous sustainable system. This project uses this term to show a rhizometric structure which links everything theoretically together into a sustainable system. A system which link renewable energy, rainwater capture, natural ways of cleaning grey water, organic food production and recirculating hydroponics together. Basicly it is initial to have a basic understanding of cybernetics first, to derive to a logical working permacultural system. It sets the basic strategy of loops for the floating farms



Cybernetics deals with “control and communication in animal and machine” as Norbert Wiener describes it. It is “the science of effective management and defensible metaphor” (S.Beer and G. Pask). The science works by setting errors in the frame of evaluation and time. The term cybernetics comes from the Greek word “Kubernetes”, which means: steersman.

The research proposal “Floating Permaculture” deals with the fact, that errors where made already and to embody the cybernetic process into a closed feedback loop to create autonomous “green” machines. It deals with the processing of the language of food and energy. One early cybernetic device was the “Gubernator” designed by James Watt. This “Gubernator” is replaced nowadays in the machine by its pre-programmed computer chip, which inhabits regulations. This research tries to adapt this method for a theoretical working system.
Floating Permaculture only focuses on the 2nd order of cybernetics. The first order of cybernetics deals with the observation of the system, while the 2nd order observes the system, were the observer is part of the system. If we create this autonomous system, we have to be aware, that human being is always part of this new feedback loop. It is only possible to find a solution if mankind understands, that we are in the system.

Floating permaculture is a polemical utopian ‘system to link systems’. It offers a closed feedback loop of energy and food production. It adapts the futuristic vision of the Metabolist movement from the 50’s and 60’s to contemporary society. In this proposal, ‘green reactors’ are projected to float in the North Sea’s shallow waters.
Given the pressure of urbanization on agricultural land in the North Sea’s coastal zones, a logical consequence could be to recuperate farmland on floating islands, to feed the urban population (more than eighty percent of our urban areas with a million or more inhabitants are in the vicinity of oceans).
As futuristic all this sounds, the use of floating permacultures is an ancient idea. A thousand years ago the Aztecs used Chinampas – floating gardens – to feed their cities where normal farmland was barely available. But in this case the floating islands not only generate food, but energy as well.
The history of civilization can be seen in terms of a competition for food and energy, in which the human being created a distortion in the balance of food and energy chains, tapping more out of the system than it could sustain. The development of high-yielding varieties of different crops after the Second World War, part of the so-called Green Revolution, has given a boost to food production and has helped to reduce the hunger of food. But this was done at a high environmental cost, and without reducing the hunger for energy. Quite the opposite.
An increasing hunger for energy was a driving force to develop offshore oil and gas platforms. It could work the same to satisfy our hunger for food, using the Metabolist movement that started in the late 1950s in Japan as a starting point. Metabolism in architecture was based on the idea that built environment could become an adaptable and expandable megastructure, flexibly responding to changing needs. The Metabolist visions resonated in the work of European architects and artists, like Constant and Yona Friedman, who developed utopias housed in comparable megastructural constructions.
Most of these megastructure were concerned with social issues and accommodation. Food production was hardly a topic, even though the name of the movement suggests otherwise. Nearly none of the projects were related to energy.

The project is blurring the boundaries between floating permacultures and the inhabitable megastructures, it brings together the ideas and visions of the Metabolists, with a process of energy and food production that is based on cybernetics, a science which was developed by Norbert Wiener in roughly the same period as Metabolism. Cybernetics deals with ‘the control and communication in animal and machine’, in Wiener’s description, and this opens the road for effectively combining ecology and technology in floating permaculture, creating dynamic balances and eliminating negative feedback loops.
This happens normally through observation of systems according to 1st or 2nd order cybernetics. The first order of cybernetics deals with the observation of the system, while the 2nd order observes the system, were the observer is within or part of the system. Floating permaculture only focuses on the 2nd order of cybernetics, because human being is always part of the system.

Each permaculture seeks to combine sustainable energy and agriculture into a closed system. The input is divided into natural and waste feeders. Natural feeders gather input from wind and sun resources. While on the other hand, waste feeders gather input from sewage and biomass resources generated from the megastructures.


_:Waste feeders

The detritus or sewage is pumped in a field of vetiver grass and then over a layer of zebra mussels before it is lead into a fermenter. The vetiver grass, which was also used as first sediment filter in the Chinampas, is reused later in the cooling engine, or desert cooler, for greenhouses.
The zebra mussels, normally known as parasites in lakes, are part of a closed system which acts as filter feeders admitting detritus and pre-cleaning the biomass in a natural way. Furthermore, the flesh and the shredded shell of the zebra mussels are used as food and calcium source for fish and chicken production. After the biomass is cleaned, it will get pre-purified in a fermenter. Then running through a dewatering machine to a bioreactor, the waste ends up in a settler, which is linked to the compost, before it is used as water in rice fields and greenhouses for vegetable production. The rice fields use combined animal groups (catfish, tilapia, pangasius and freshwater drum) for increasing crop production in the paddies. The positive benefit is that the excrements of the fish operate as natural fertilisers for the rice. The enriched water with the fertilisers from the paddies is then lead into the greenhouses with the hydroponic systems.
Hydroponic systems are very successful in illegal cannabis production. A legal application is the vertical farm at the Paignton Zoo (2009). Combined animal groups are used in the Science Barge, in New York, where catfish excrement is used as a natural fertiliser in small hydroponic systems. The cooling of the greenhouse for the hydroponics is done by panels of cardboard and vetiver grass, in which water irrigation cools down the air. Furthermore, once the cardboard or the grass is rotten, it will be disposed as natural waste into a compost area. In winter, the greenhouses are heated by the use of passive solar energy. The compost area transforms biomass to soil by the use of bacteria and worms. Later down the line, the worms are used as food for fish. This use of compost is connected to the output of compostable biomass of the mega structures. The generated soil from the compost is used in the aforementioned rice and corn fields. Another compound feed and nitrogen source for the system is generate from the corn as starch, which can be stored and used on demand linking back to the animal and crop production.

_:Natural feeders

The harvesting of natural energy resources like wind and sun, can be based on many proven systems, albeit that most of those are not fully optimised yet. One big issue is the storage of the generated energy. One possible solution is the use of electrolysis combined with a hydrogen-fuel cell. The electrolysis transforms the generated electricity into hydrogen, which can be later transformed by the fuel-cell back into electricity. Alternatively, the hydrogen can also be stored as granulate via a metal hydride storage.
Another solution is to store the energy in a Norwegian hydro-electric power plant, where it is available on demand. Such system is already planned, but at the moment stopped for political reasons.
Auxiliary electricity is generated through wind, solar, wave turbines and biogas from the fermenter. The generated electricity feeds back into the floating permaculture as well as the megastructures. A second reactor is hooked up to the circular flow via an algae bioreactor, which is optimized by LED’s to increase the production up to 24 hours per day. A small scale version of this reactor was created by a company called OriginOil. The output of such a reactor is not only electricity, but algae cake as well. This algae press cake from the bioreactor is high in protein and can be feedback into animal feed or directly into the megastructures.


The human being has broken out of his ecological dinnerjacket – his food supply is not longer limited by what he can grow, rather instead by what he can transform.
In one way, Lavoisier was right: “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.” Therewith we should aim today for transformations, which are bound up to a sustainable feedback loops.
We can not prevent the climate change anymore, but we are able to minimize the effect by acting now through modifying our cerebration and through combination of serious energy efficiency and wide variety of new technologies if we would like to create hope of a way out of the crisis.
Floating permaculture as sophisticated part of a new Metabolism; a positive organism which will adapt to bodies and culture creates the battery which will provide the modern autonomous “Technobody” with energy. The Human has to aim for autarky as a solution for our current over-exploitation of resources.