Mobile City On Treads Would Double As A Plow, Turning Deserts Into Oases

Could this enormous machine actually turn the Sahara into the Central California coast?

Malka Architecture’s Stephane Malka, who previously construct this cool room made of cardboard boxes, has a somewhat more ambitious project now: a self-sufficient, city-sized tank concept called the Green Machine, which would plow the Sahara and turn it into a fertile wonderland. It is questionably possible, or even desirable. But fun to think about!


The basic concept is a mobile city built on a raised platform, looking something like an offshore oil rig, except built on tank-like treads. The city would have schools, recreation centers, and housing, and it would be blanketed with arable land on which to grow food. It would also generate its own power. The power would come through a combination of solar power–if there’s one thing the desert has a lot of, it’s solar power–and would gather water by floating nine enormous balloons high above the structure, collecting condensation from the air.

But the idea isn’t really to make a giant mobile home in the Sahara; the idea is that those tank-like treads would actually plow the land, plant grains, and provide water as the machine moves, effectively sowing the land and transforming it from raw desert into something more like, I don’t know, Santa Cruz. (It’s the Brussels sprout capital of the world, look it up.)

It’s a fun idea! But I am a little concerned about the idea that the desert is an unoccupied, worthless bit of land just waiting to be turned into a garden. The Sahara is a natural and thriving ecosystem; around 500 species of plant live there (that’s very low for an area that size, but it’s not nothing), along with species of fox, wild dog, cheetah, antelope, gazelle, and lots of scorpions and lizards and snakes. Humans also live there; not many, but some. All of which is to say that plowing the Sahara and turning it into farmland would have real, negative effects on an ecosystem. Namely, it’d destroy that ecosystem.

I also find it sort of doubtful that all it would take to turn the Sahara into the Fertile Crescent is some plowing and buckwheat seeds, instead of, like, a totally different climate and precipitation level. But! It is a very cool concept from a “whoa look at that crazy thing!” perspective, and given that its stated duty is to “stimulate debate concerning global warming, overpopulation and food shortage” rather than provide blueprints for an architect, we can let that stuff slide.

[via Designboom]

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.