The world's oceans
Competition 1st prize
Polemic concept
1,000,000 m2



United Plastic Nation is a concept design by FREISCHAERLER that won the LA+ Journal’s competition on ‘Imagination’ in 2017.

The concept is a ‘playful’ approach to making the world a better place by bringing together the power of design and a radical approach to addressing the ocean waste problem.

It focuses on three of the most important global problems today: the pollution of the oceans with (micro-) plastics, the displacement of millions of people from their homes through unsolved political conflicts, and the vast economic loss through tax evasion.

United Plastic Nation resolves all three issues with one solution. The island is continuously ‘self-building’ by 3D printing its own extensions from plastic sourced from the ocean it floats in. Financed through illicit money it builds an utopian place that absorbs both dark money and ocean waste and turns these into a constructive living space for an ever-growing world population.

“Ten years ago United Plastic Nation – a sentient, forever-morphing floating city fashioned from plastic bags, fake news and dark web transactions - would be laughed off as fiction”, assumes Rory Olcayto, director of Open City. “Yet today, FREISCHAERLER’s concept feels freakily prescient, in a William Gibson-kind of way.”

So this concept is a serious reflection on our world’s condition and in the same time a polemic proposal for mutually eliminating three global problems.

The United Plastic Nation is an “ever-growing structure, slowly turning circles around the globe collecting plastic, which a swarm of robotic drones turns into building material”, as landscapeaustralia.com notes.

Indeed, the material part of the UPN is made of the leftovers of our modern consumerist society, using modern technology to clean the oceans from destructive rubbish and put it together again in order to serve in a new, positive way.

The concept of the UPN is an approach to connect architectural design and delivering possible answers to urging problems of our world today. The authors see it as one field of work where architects and designers have a wider responsibility than just the technical fulfillment of their clients wishes: using their imaginational capacity on something really relevant. Not just to them, but to the world.

“The winning entry tells us something about what’s lurking in the unfettered imagination of contemporary design culture”, says Richard Weller (LA+ Jury Chair), stressing the importance of thinking outside the box when you are facing new challenges as a designer.


Wars, poverty, environmental destruction – sounds like a recipe for Armageddon. 

What if we could take greed, ignorance, and violence and create something positive? The United Plastic Nation (UPN) is the antipode - an ever-growing structure, floating through the ocean currents, slowly turning circles around the globe, feeding of an seemingly endless resource: our drive for self destruction.

On its way it collects and recycles plastic from the oceans. Building material is produced, which is then 3D-printed by a swarm of robotic drones. Layer by layer, they build a completely self-sufficient city. Food is grown in vertical aquaponic farms, water and waste cycle through closed systems, and energy is produced by the waves. The island grows both horizontally and vertically along a New York-like grid, forming an unsinkable iceberg structure. Eventually a landmass of 1km2 emerges with residential, industrial, recreational, and commercial zones – the first district of the UPN. 

While growing, the island passes by all continents, connecting regions of poverty and despair with regions of wealth and prosperity. It collects its inhabitants from the army of forgotten and dispossessed who are stuck in between. 

Buried deep below the surface in the belly of the island lie the servers which contain the squirreled-away fortunes of the world’s richest and greediest. Positioned in international waters, the UPN is bound by no national laws, thus enabling it to function as a tax haven and generate revenue.

The United Plastic Nation questions the concept of the nation state, which defines itself by exclusion of the outside via borders and citizenship. This island is instead by default inclusive, has no boarders, is part of all continents, and anyone can be become citizen. A society of true urban nomads is borne, not moving from city to city but moving their city themselves.

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