Maldives is a territory made up of 1% land and 99% ocean. Approximately 200 of its 1200 islands are inhabited. High-end resorts lease about 90 islands, offering a remote island experience with white sand beaches and unique coral reef dives for thousand dollars a night rates. This is the nation’s main economy, along with fishing, specifically for Skipjack tuna.
For the local Muslim citizens, the extreme pressures on their nation (the lowest lying in the world), with the closest neighbor Sri Lanka, located over 600 miles away, are glaringly obvious. Sea walls protect its capital where a third of its population live, desalination and bottled water is the primary source of fresh drinking water, diesel is its main source of fuel, trash is burned, staple food is almost entirely imported. On paper, this is a recipe for long-term disaster.
Yet, our visit and immersion into the Maldivian culture this summer revealed a crucial underpinning to all that is dire to this nation – a history of living with an everyday 360 degree view of the ocean with no inland. In a sense, they are already floating. And this lived understanding of being an isolated nation of islands in the Indian Ocean gives them the cultural expertise to teach those of us around the world about resilience.
New to this semester’s studio will be our collaboration with citizens in the Maldives who welcome the studio’s interest to investigate ways to develop infrastructure for a community adapting to the changing climate that is also focused on the health of their ecosystem as a key driver. This type of proposal offers an alternative to the ecologically destructive process of land reclamation that has been the development practice over the last decade. The studio will have conversations with architectural students from the university, Maldivian policy makers, architects and engineers as we develop a project for a local island called Dhangethi. The studio projects will learn how to integrate five sustainable infrastructure systems (renewable energy, fresh water collection, anaerobic wastewater treatment, food production and recycling) that support the local island culture. The goal of this studio is to offer a blueprint for resilience designed for Maldivians, but one also adaptable to other coastal communities.