This Sustainable, Floating 'Continent' Cleans Up Ocean Plastic

Nov 10, 2021by Olivia - F&F

It looks like a scene from a blockbuster sci-fi movie, but the ‘8th Continent’ — designed by Zaha Hadid Architects’ Lenka Petráková — is a self-sustaining, ocean-cleaning floating station! The prototype of Petráková’s ingenious design won the 2020 Grand Prix Award for Architecture and Innovation of the Sea.

8th Continent Ocean Plastic Pollution8th Continent Ocean Plastic Pollution

The ‘8th Continent’ Is An Ocean-Cleaning Research Facility

The 8th Continent concept began with the idea of solving one of the world’s most urgent environmental issues: ocean plastic pollution. The floating structure is designed to collect, manage and store ocean plastic. But that’s not all! The 8th Continent consists of 5 main partsThe Barrier that collects waste and harvests tidal energy; The Collector, where waste is sorted, biodegraded and stored; The Research and Education Centre to study and showcase the troubling side of aquatic environments; Greenhouses where plants are grown and water is desalinated; and Living Quarters with support facilities.

Each component works together in perfect harmony. The Barrier, collects tidal energy to power the turbine which collects waste, and the Greenhouses are covered in solar panels, which power the onsite water desalinisation plant!

8th Continent Great Pacific Garbage Patch8th Continent Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The ‘8th Continent’ Could Clean The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The massive floating station is designed to be placed in the Pacific Ocean, within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The swirling vortex of marine debris (which is roughly three times the size of France) consists of 1.1 to 3.6 trillion pieces of plastic, including tiny microplastics.

According to Petráková, the station’s arms — the Barrier — skims the surface of the water and navigates the trash towards the Collector, where it is sorted, biodegraded and stored. Although, it isn’t clear whether the Barrier would stop microplastics, which are often naked to the human eye. "I realised how destroyed the oceans are and how many species are extinct, how much pollution is there, and that the parts that may have never seen a human being, feel the effects of our activities," said Petráková.

Architecture Inspired By Nature

The architecture of this prototype is both stunning and practical. According to Petráková, “The beauty of architecture is in its possibilities. Every architectural work combines aesthetics, technology, fabrication techniques and materiality”. 

The Greenhouses, for example, are shaped like large sails to navigate the station! But from a distance, they also look like beautiful flower buds. 

“I looked for inspiration in nature, but I developed the design based on the environmental requirements. I studied natural forms, but the outcome results from geometry studies, a self-sufficient system and technology integration,” said Petráková.

Lenka Petráková 8th ContinentLenka Petráková 8th Continent

Could Lenka Petráková’s ‘8th Continent’ Become A Reality?

After studying the impacts of ocean pollution, Lenka Petráková developed the 8th Continent prototype for her student master thesis at the University of Applied Arts. Now, her brilliant mind has taken her to Zaha Hadid Architects in London, where she works as a Senior Designer. “I am fascinated by nature and its ability to adapt, regenerate and answer to any given conditions. When I was looking for my thesis project topic at the University of Applied Arts, I wished to develop a project that would help wildlife and reflect on current environmental challenges,” Petráková said.

It’s a phenomenal idea, but could it become a reality? Petráková believes so! “Elon Musk would be a great patron of the project, given his energy and excitement to push the technology forward and to research new territories,” she said.

Lenka Petráková has such a brilliant mind! She’s successfully tapped into the intersection between architecture and technology to develop a truly self-sustainable solution to ocean plastic. Can you imagine one of these floating around the Pacific Ocean? Hopefully, one day this phenomenal idea will become a reality. 

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