Fresh alumnus of TalTech’s Academy of Architecture and Urban Studies, Agur-Andri Tarmo, participated with his Master’s thesis “Between Sky and Water” in the international architecture competition Proximity Island and received an Honourable Mention. A total of 43 entries were submitted.
The aim of the competition was to design a water museum and research centre with accommodation on the former gas rig in Italy’s coastal waters. The existing structure had to be preserved, but the participants were free to add new structures as needed. The rig is located 7 kilometres from the city of Ravenna, so to some extent, it had to be treated as part of the city. The transport of visitors to the rig will be organised on small ferries and boats commuting several times a day.
New function must be found for oil and gas rigs in the nearest decades
According to Agur-Andri Tarmo, there are thousands of open sea oil and gas rigs across the world to be shut down in the nearest decades and it is a complex and expensive task to isolate them from the sea environment as it comprises shutting the rigs down, disassembling, transporting to the shore and restoring the former state of the sea bottom. In addition to the complexity, these activities may pose a further risk to the environment when any of the rigs leak, or later when rig parts are handled. The ecosystem developed on the underwater parts of the rig over the years will also be damaged. All this has pushed us to find alternatives, such as leaving the rigs fully or partially in the sea and repurposing them.
The central objective of Tarmo’s Master’s thesis was to repurpose the out-of-use oil and gas rigs and find new functions for them as an alternative to removing the rigs from the sea. “The thesis also touched upon the general possibility of living on the sea and a future scenario where a large part of the land territory remains under water, making us find new places to live,” he said.
The goal of the project solution was to find a new form for the gas rig, as aesthetic and yet pragmatic as possible, to fit between the water and the sky, and accommodate a spatial programme in between for the museum and research centre to operate. Tarmo explained that various technologies for getting renewable energy from the sea were explored as options for providing autonomous energy supply for the rig. “In fact, there is a huge energy potential in the sea and the oceans, but we only know how to use a little of it so far. In contrast to this, many of the functioning oil rigs still use diesel generators which are harmful environmental pollutants,” he added.
Open sea facilities are a real thing in the future. In Estonia as well.
Tarmo said that projects like this can become a reality if there is interest enough. “One of the real examples is the old oil rig near the island of Borneo, which has been repurposed into a diving hotel (Seaventures). Of course, this is a place for those looking for extreme experiences only. At the same time, I can see structures like this aimed at a wider audience, too, if more activities are assembled on the rig and better conditions created, and the possibility of this is exactly what this competition and my thesis are trying to show,” he said.
Tarmo says there are simpler and cheaper ways to reuse the rigs as well, such as leaving them partially into the sea as breeding ground for corals. “The suitability of a rig for repurposing depends on the state and features of the specific rig. It may happen that the rebuilding or repurposing turns out to be cheaper than removing the rig entirely from the sea. Therefore, why not use the special location of these facilities on the open sea and create something new and exciting there,” Tarmo said.
According to him, the smartest way to repurpose a rig is to do it in the same place where it was originally installed. “We know that there are no such places in Estonian waters. However, there are rigs which can be towed and transported to the desired location if necessary. Thinking big, we could also have a similar water museum in the Gulf of Finland, where we could go through the Tallinn-Helsinki underwater tunnel,” he said.