Nearly a decade ago, billionaire Peter Thiel cofounded a nonprofit called Seasteading Institute,and contributed seed funding toward what could become the world's first floating city.
By 2020, the Institute aims to build a dozen floating islands in French Polynesia featuring homes, restaurants, offices, schools, and hotels.
At first, the project's founders imagined the city as a libertarian utopia free of regulation. Joe Quirk, president of the Institute, told Business Insider that his team's vision has evolved beyond that. The group now sees the city as a way to live with rising sea levels, which are expected to increase more than six feet by the end of this century.
Earlier in 2017, the French Polynesian government allowed the Seasteading Institute to start testing in its oceans. Take a look at the ambitious plan below.
In a 2009 essay, Thiel wrote, "Between cyberspace and outer space lies the possibility of settling the oceans."
Seasteading Institute's city would float in French Polynesian waters.
The team seeks to build a dozen residential islands by 2020, Quirk told Business Insider. Though Thiel provided initial funding for the project, Quirk said the billionaire is no longer directly involved.
"Peter was the most generous donor to the Seasteading Institute for the first few years and gets credit for financially kickstarting this great movement, which would not be happening without him," Quirk said.
Approximately 250 people would live there, about a half-mile away from the shore. Residents would get back to land using a ferry.
The first buildings — including homes, restaurants, retail, offices, schools, and an underwater restaurant — would serve as the core of the city.
There are two proposed designs.
The first would feature buildings in multiple clusters along with large solar panels and wind turbines. The second would be in a horseshoe shape and would include more green space.
The team wants to grow much of its food through aquaculture, which involves breeding plants and fish in water.
The islands would run on solar power and continuously gather and recycle its water from the ocean.
Quirk's new startup, Blue Frontiers, would manage the islands. He expects the dozen islands to cost $60 million, which the team plans to raise via an initial coin offering — an unregulated way to fundraise using cryptocurrency.
"We will be living on the oceans long before we live on Mars," Quirk said.
The plan is certainly ambitious. A floating city prototype for San Francisco Bay in 2010 never came to fruition.
As The New York Times notes, living on the water was even a plotline in one episode of the HBO series "Silicon Valley." In recent years, seasteading has also become a symbol of the tech industry's tendency to conjure utopian visions for the future.
At the same time, rising sea levels due to climate change threaten coastal cities around the world. Building a floating city could be one option for tackling that.
"Floating islands solve two of the biggest problems in the world: Sea level change and the lack of start-up innovation in governance," Quirk said.
If the Institute manages to gain government approval and make its floating city a reality, Quirk said that the team would expand the project to include affordable housing. The first homes would be for luxury buyers.
He also hopes that the city will serve as "an incubation hub to develop wave energy generation technologies, floating solar, materials science, algae-based food and fuel, sea water air conditioning (SWAC), desalination, and marine education."