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Katherine Shonfield

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The transfer of ships into buildings is a long-established myth of Modernism. The equivalent swap of building typologies into boats has a less respectable history. Anyone who has experienced a Thames 'pleasure boat' or a cross-Channel ferry will tell you that the shift of the architectural types of nightclub and supermarket respectively from dry land to water is more liable to induce the screaming heebie-jeebies than aesthetic admiration.

The mind therefore boggles at a proposal for an entire floating city. Construction is to start within three months on a high - very high - density development for 40,000 people, of whom 10,000 will be staff.

Anyone who is intrigued can visit www.freedomship.com/wip. The depicted proposal is a sobering sight. It has the deeply unconvincing architectural armour of a 24-storey suburban office development by one of those less than inspiring architectural practices, usually identified by three initials. Could it be that in our nihilistic times the floating corporate headquarters adds a gung-ho Titanic factor which is an added attraction. An article in the Guardian notes that 'there had been scepticism...about the safety of such a vessel, but the company engineers were confident that a ship of such a size would be secure and viable'. That's a relief.

The sight/site is sobering for other reasons as well. By floating it, the project takes the idea of the object building to the point of parody. Gazing at a structure from all possible distances and all possible angles merely reveals it to one and all in its natural state of glorious banality. By cooping up thousands of people in a structure from which there is no escape without the say-so of a single unelected and unrepresentative person - the captain - the ultimate logic of another urban favourite, the gated 'community', is chillingly played out.

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