Space & Innovation

Floating Plaza Appears to Be Carved Into Water

A floating plaza off the coast of West Palm Beach takes the infinity pool illusion to a new level.

<p>Carlo Ratti Associati<span></span></p>

A lagoon that was once one of the most neglected bodies of water in Florida will be getting new lungs.

Design plans for a floating open-air public plaza in West Palm Beach's Lake Worth Lagoon just emerged from the architecture firm Carlo Ratti Associati. This gathering spot appears to be sliced right out of the water, taking infinity pool illusion to a new level.

Situated partly under sea level, the plaza will contain a system of responsive air chambers similar to the ones found in submarines, according to the design firm. As visitors enter and leave the plaza surface, chambers automatically release or take in water from the lagoon to keep the building level constant.

"The plaza inhabits the water as if it was carved right into it," founding partner Carlo Ratti said in a public statement.

This unusual design is part of a redevelopment plan covering 19 hectares along a section of Lake Worth Lagoon. Stretching for about 20 miles parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, the lagoon went through decades of environmental abuse. Mangroves were destroyed and the shoreline bulkheaded. The worst point started in 1950, when 10 million gallons of raw sewage were getting dumped into it annually, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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Efforts to restore and protect the lagoon that started in the late 1980s have fortunately made some progress. Ratti's plaza will float in the lagoon near Currie Park on West Palm Beach's northeastern waterfront. The land was donated by former mayor George Graham Currie in 1920. These days the scenic park has pretty much been taken over by the homeless.

Earlier this year local billionaire developer Jeff Greene and city commissioners hired Ratti, who also directs MIT's Senseable City Lab, to rethink the area, the Palm Beach Post reported. Besides the plaza, commercial development in the area calls for an auditorium, circular pool and restaurant.

Groundbreaking on the plaza is expected to happen this month, with project completion scheduled for 2018. Looks like the finished space will be a beautiful, unusual spot. It's going to take far more than design to turn the area around, though. Some problems run quite deep.

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