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Vincent Callebaut Architectures
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Vincent Callebaut Architectures as Architects


More than one billion of people do not have any access to drinking water. Three thousands of people die everyday from having consumed polluted water. The water is thus not a good. It should belong to everybody. Many non governmental organisations as well as the PNUD (Programme of the United Nations for the Development) fight for the idea that water is a “common good”. It must be highly considered and be part of a different management that is not commercial, connecting public and private organisms not only in national and regional frameworks but also on the worldwide scale inside UN or a new specialised “ad hoc” institution.

Even by taking into account the increase of the worldwide population (9.2 billion within 2050 according to UN), the quantity of soft water accessible on surface represents 40 000 km3 per year. As the world consumes nowadays only 5500 km3 of water (from which 70% for agriculture, 20% for industry and 10% for the domestic consumption), it meets widely the needs of the planetary societies. Contrary to prejudices, the quantity of water does not count. What is important, is the ability of the societies to build the access to drinking water unequally spread on Earth, especially between the North and the South. Actually, only nine countries share together 60% of the annual worldwide flow!

The appeal made during the World Forum of Water in Istanbul at the beginning of March 2009 has to be understood in this framework: “The resources dedicated to water are minuscule compared to the spending invested in the fight against the gas emissions with greenhouse effects or the financial crisis (…). The water should be in the heart of the policies of agriculture, energy, health, infrastructures, education (…). The managers of water are convinced of that, but they do not take the decisions. The heads of state and government have to seize with it” (Olcay Ünver, coordinator of the final report of the Forum of Istanbul).


In the European thought about the adaptation to the climatic change and the establishment of the qualitative and quantitative degradation of the water resources, the supplying for everyone of drinking water and the boost of the transport by waterways (low CO2 transmitter) are the two new ecological and worldwide challenges about the water. In 2009, the ministers of 120 countries, scientists and ecologist fighters participated in Istanbul to the World Forum of Water (as above mentioned) to study the means to avoid a water crisis which according to UN and the World Water Council, will affect about half of the worldwide population within 2030.

In this context, the “Physalia” project is an architectural prototype that aims at meeting the need of the mutualisation of the knowledge in terms of sustainable management of the water resource. It is a half aquatic and half earthly amphibious vessel, a floating agora which has not only the objective on a geopolitical scale to deal with ecology ad water saving, but also on a European scale, to elaborate strategic solutions to animate the fluvial network. True nomadic hydrodynamic laboratory dedicated to implement an international network of scientific partnerships, “Physalia” will also develop new prototypes of environmental resources and will show its most advanced studies on this matter:

In terms of water consumption: the water savings, the refill of the ground waters, the control of the rainwater recycling, the recycling of domestic and industrial waters, the purifying of the pollutions coming from agriculture (nitrates, plant health), the desalination of sea water, the management of humid areas, the city-agriculture competition and the valorisation of all the induced waste (sludges, ashes, …)

In terms of transport on waterways: the promotion of waterways (fluvial and commercial transport, hydro-electricity production, agricultural irrigation, protection against floods, cooling of the industrial power stations, water sports…), the elaboration of laying-out policies of sites located near their surroundings, the improvement of the environmental performance, the social investment in the human capital and the implementation of great priority projects of the reinforcement of the transeuropean network of commercial and fluvial tourism transports as fluvial axis linking the Rhine and the Danube and the fluvial Seine-Escaut waterway.

“Physalia” is thus an innovative scientific equipment dedicated to set investigation fields as much innovative too! It is a “clean” vessel, of new generation, a floating purification station, a tool of ecologic promotion with sulphur and carbon zero dedicated to sensitize the populations!


Physalia is a vessel, 100% self sufficient in energy, whose bionic structure is inspired from the pneumatophorous called also “Physalia physalis”, from Greek physalis (…) that means “water bubble”! As this aquatic pneumatophorous, the project is relevant by its perfect symmetry, its oblong shape and its translucent aspect. It is a sum-up of the nature and the biotechnologies dedicated to navigate on the main extra-European rivers between Danube and Volga, between Rhine and Guadalquivir, or also between Euphrate and Tiger. It is a poetic invitation to travel, a sensory experience for the transdisciplinary research, geopolitical debates, popular pedagogy and therefore for the emergence of an ecologic avant-garde on the water theme. It is a charismatic place, an abstraction of landscape opened on the world and mixing the European cultures through an innovative special assembling. It is a ecosystem reacting to its environment, a fragment of living earth, inviting the fauna and the flora of the fluvial biodiversity to come and make its nest in the city!

Its architecture with carbon zero emission is eco-designed from renewable energies to make it as a prototype with positive energy, that means producing more energy than it consumes! Thus, its roof contains a double pneumatic membrane chiselled with smooth photovoltaic solar cells whereas under its hull the hydro-turbines transform the energy of the fluvial stream in hydro-electricity and enable to adjust the soft navigation. Its surface is made of aluminium covering the multi-hull steel structure. This silver-plated dress is covered by a TiO2 layer of anatase shape that by reacting to the ultraviolet rays enables to reduce the water pollution. Actually, in addition to being a self cleaning vessel, it enables to absorb and recycle by photo-catalytic effect, the chemical and carboned waste from the fluvial water rejected by the traditional boats and by industrialists. Moreover, the project is crossed in its double hull by a hydraulic network that enables to filter the fluvial water and to purify it biologically thanks to its planted roof.

When the system of automatic irrigation works in “blue hours”, the architecture disappears in favour of an atmosphere. Actually, the project metamorphoses into a fog cloud with evanescent contour. The Physalia becomes therefore a perfumed evaporation space that seems to coil up the visitors in suspension inside. The architecture of the futurist ship reveals a perfect balance between the cantilever masses, placing it in light levitation on the water surface. The curved lines are refined and nerve. They show with elegance the innovative and stylish side of this place.


The interior scenography of Physalia animates the debate on the water future into four thematic gardens dedicated respectively to every four elements bringing by symbiosis their typical aspect and complementarily to the final assembling of an amphibious global landscape.

- The “Water” garden: marks the main entrance of Physalia between the berthing gates and the square. A great glass platform is in suspension on top of the water surface reflecting thus on the interior vault the causticity of the floods. This reception space dedicated to the temporary exhibitions vibrates under the weightlessness and dances under the reflections of light. The façades of this true aquatic balcony can also open themselves totally on the fluvial landscape and let the space breathe towards the exterior caressed by the fluvial breeze.

- The “Earth” garden: constitutes the heart of the laboratory dedicated to international researchers who analyse the aquatic ecosystem crossed by the ship. On top of this panoramic room, a planted vault stands up. This vault is a fertile metaphor of earth filtering the stations of work and molecular analysis.

- The “Fire” garden: is a confined and protecting underwater lounge, truly out of time. The soft relaxation armchairs surround a huge fire timbale burning in the fireproofed hull of the vessel. We feel like in a subaquatic cockpit with delicate golden reflections. We access naturally to this garden from a soft and circular banister that spreads under the planted vault around flames. We can admire the floating line dancing under its sinusoidal volutes as well as the fauna and the flora of the middle through the two panoramic glass portholes. It is a space dedicated to the permanent exhibitions on the aquatic ecosystems.

- The “Air” garden: is a space of oxygen and light that spreads under a pneumatophorous lens. Actually, this ecologic amphitheatre opened towards the exterior landscape, towards the cities organised with chisels under an oblong ear of pneumatic and photovoltaic cushions. In the centre, we find “H2O” acronym extruded under the shape of a circular and rotating water bar such as a theatre stage. It is the meeting and debate point by excellence, a true citizen forum where we meet to reinvent the world and decide of the eco-political strategies of tomorrow!

Man is in the centre of this bionic project that recommends the balance between the human actions and the respect of environment. The architecture of this nomadic place, powerful concentrate of nature, of biotechnologies and information and communication technologies is thus the simple reflect of the contemporary citizen who wonders about the actions to conduct on its environment. It is an audacious avant-garde project that aims at mixing people around the notion of water respect, sharing in movement and dynamic balance. After the Copenhagen conference, it is a project of transeuropean leadership and a positive innovation of ecologic resilience.

© Vincent Callebaut Architectures

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands - Build completed in 2017
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