Jacques Rougerie was born in 1945, in the closing days of World War II. That happened to be the same period in which the famous French Oceanographer, Jacques Yves Cousteau, co-developed the Aqualung and begun a lifelong pursuit of oceanic exploration and habitation. Cousteau became an indelible influence on the young Rougerie, who has gone on to become famous in his own right, as a leading marine architect. Rougerie refers to himself as a ‘mérien,’ a term he coined, meaning, ‘one belonging to the sea;’ that attachment has spoken through virtually all his major works.
In 1957, Cousteau directed the Précontinent program, conducting pioneering research in to saturation diving and living underwater; Rougerie was profoundly influenced by that project. He began studying architecture at the French School of Fine Arts in the early ’60s, but the sea was calling, so in 1970 he transferred to the Oceanographic Institute of Paris. His four plus decades of professional work has been dedicated to ocean dwellings and vessels, informed by the principles of sustainable development, and an abiding passion for the fragility and importance of the sea to mankind. Rougerie has designed and built several underwater habitats, some of which he lives in.
In 2013, Rougerie unveiled SeaOrbiter, a floating, integrated community and research platform, designed to undertake a series of long-term studies, conducted while the huge vessel drifts upon ocean currents. The crowd funding campaign for SeaOrbiter was a resounding success, and construction began in early 2015.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Rougerie just announced plans for The City of Meriens, playing off his own Merien moniker. This project is a self-contained, self-sustaining city at sea, designed as a floating university of sorts, providing students, instructors, and researchers an ocean-borne platform for long-term studies of marine biodiversity. It is intended to accommodate up to 7,000 occupants, and will integrate labs, classrooms, living space, food production areas, and recreational facilities.
The City of Meriens will build, expand upon, and work in concert with the SeaOrbiter program. At some 900 meters in length, 500 meters in beam, 60 meters in height above sea level, and 120 meters below, the craft will be genuinely huge, well over twice as long as the largest ship currently in service on the world’s oceans and seas. For such a massive craft to actually be built and survive the rigors of ocean travel, form is critical. For that, Rougerie turned to nature; The City of Meriens is inspired by the family of sea Rays, those graceful creatures that seem to fly, rather than swim through the water. A central lagoon will provide docking spaces for vessels up to 90 meters in length, as well as future SeaOrbiters.
Rougerie’ design is sublime, and clearly illustrates themes important to him and his work, reflecting both the strength and fragility of the sea, as well as its epic beauty. The City of Meriens is both practical and lovely in its lines. Rougerie envisions the craft as self-supporting; as such, it will be powered through renewable marine-based energy production, and will conform to a strict zero-waste program. Integrated aquaculture facilities and hydroponic greenhouses will provide sustenance for crew and occupants.
It’s not unfair to say that if a project of this scope and grandeur were proposed by almost any other architect, it would provoke more raised eyebrows than excitement. Given Rougerie’s remarkably successful track record and the resounding success of the SeaOrbiter program, the latter sentiment is much in evidence with this announcement.