The evolution of technology has constantly opened several new pathways for architecture to branch into. Some of these pathways seemed unfathomable and sometimes unconceivable many years ago. One such recent pathway is the development of underwater architecture. Intricate construction techniques, interplays of light, and spatial awareness have produced several incredible projects from some of the world’s best architects. Projects that started for research purposes have become essential urban design parts that are often symbolic. Underwater architectural projects now range from large-scale commercial aquariums to underwater resorts, restaurants, and hotels, which are constantly evolving with technology and new construction techniques. Architecture at its core is experiential and underwater architectural projects provide a rather unique experience for its users by opening a portal into a world that most humans cannot experience every day. 

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Photograph by W W_©

The Blue Planet by 3XN

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The external skin of the structure resembling fish scales _©

Located in Copenhagen, Denmark, this design by 3XN had all its features directly inspired by the sea. The building resembles a whirlpool with organic patterns stretching out at all ends, encompassing the saltwater aquarium inside. These patterns are lined with over thirty-three thousand aluminium plates that follow the form resembling fish scales arranged intuitively, drawing the visitors into a controlled exhibition space. The spaces are divided efficiently, taking maximum advantage of the shoreline north of Kastrup Harbour on which the building sits. Inside the structure, interplays of light, sound, AV technology, and scale variations create unique viewing experiences for the visitors. 

The steel structure itself sits on a pile foundation submerged in water. The organic forms result from specifically designed fifty-four steel frames that radiate out from a central pivot. The radiating arms lead the visitors to the central pivot as it branches out into different displays allowing efficient circulation and giving the users a choice for navigation. Saltwater is present all around and is used efficiently in the design for the aquatic life on display and its general functioning and maintenance. The underwater architectural design creates user experiences by allowing them to traverse its many pathways and openings. 

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The central pivot_©

Karlovac Freshwater Aquarium and Museum by 3LHD.  

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External view with the connection to the river_ ©

Located beside the river Korana in Karlovac, this freshwater aquarium was designed by 3LDH Architects to be a new focal point and a tourist attraction for the city. The project’s most striking and notable feature is its volumes going underground, allowing the surrounding landscape to flow into the roof and ensuring the design merges seamlessly with the nearby river. Three walking pathways that connect to major portions of the city and surrounding natural landscapes cut through the design allowing for exhibition spaces, cafes, libraries, and offices to happen along its lengths. 

The design celebrates the country of Croatia and the freshwater flora and fauna present there. A series of cohesive winding ramps resembling the river leads to aquariums below. By efficiently using scale and sounds, the design mimics a riverside experience while displaying and celebrating indigenous freshwater aquatic animals. The sounds deepen, change, and dim as the exhibition opens. Artificial lights penetrate and change throughout the exhibition, which serves as a visual experience and doubles up as a requirement for the many species present here. Research centres and adequate services for studies help maintain the value of this aquarium. Freshwater aquariums are now becoming more common in many inland cities where people can also access aquatic architecture. 

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The internal exhibition areas_©

Underwater restaurant in Båly Norway by Snohetta. 

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The entrance into the underwater restaurant_©

A unique take on underwater architecture, this concrete structure by Snohetta is embedded partially in the water around five meters below the surface of the Ocean.  The design encompasses Europe’s first underwater restaurant and an aquatic life research facility. The design is highly sensitive to aquatic life, with its smooth concrete shape enveloped over a rugged surface to encourage mussels to latch on, making the entire design a large mussel reef. The restaurant itself is comprised of three levels going down to the seabed. A large window opens the space to the vibrant seabed with its naturally present aquatic life which the design looks to synthesise. The thick shell of concrete rests on the seabed and can withstand the differences in pressure along with the prevalent storms in the area. Through innovation and strategic positioning, the design is both sensitive to its surroundings and highly experiential and unique to its users. 

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The large window opening to the seabed_©

Muraka Undersea Residence by Yuji Yamazaki Architecture.

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Kingsized bed in the undersea suit_©

Underwater architecture and aquariums are often looked at as commercial or social hotspots with a larger urban significance rather than as places to reside. However, The Muraka Undersea Residence in Maldives goes against conventional residential design and is one of the world’s first underwater hotel residences. This two-storeyed villa comprises an undersea suit five meters below sea level with a king-sized bedroom, living area, bathroom, and walk-in closet, surrounded by the Indian Ocean’s marine life. The suit is accessed through a spiral staircase, primarily a composite steel and concrete structure. The walls and the roof are covered in a thick seven-inch glass enclosure that is visually significant and helps regulate pressure inside the suit. Most of the interior spaces are upholstered with leather to cover up the structural systems in place while doubling up as acoustic insulators. Pile foundation systems support both villa levels and can withstand adverse weather conditions. The design is intricate and thoughtful, pushing the boundaries of structural design and opening the possibility for a new architectural language based on innovation. 

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The external view of the villa_©

A glimpse into a future resilient to flooding and sea level rise. Piero Lissoni’s Waterfront Aquarium New York. 

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The competition proposal for a submerged city aquarium_©

There is a lot to learn from underwater aquariums regarding a resilient design in terms of the structural systems in place, spatial arrangements, materiality, and their ability to withstand forces and pressures that a building is normally never subjected to. It can open doors to the possibility of sustaining an inevitable future of sea level rise and coastal flooding. Understanding underwater architecture can help embrace the inevitable rather than trying to fight it or relocate to higher elevations. A proposal that arguably best encapsulates this idea is the award-winning proposal of a Waterfront Aquarium in New York City’s East River by Piero Lissoni. 

The winner of the Arch Out Loud Competition, the proposal would be formed from a submerged two-level island that extends into the river. Ramps resembling seashells step down into the basin, taking the visitors into the lobby surrounded by water on all sides. The idea was to create an environment where the visitors feel like they are entering the water, which opens to exhibition spaces all around to display aquatic life. New York is a city that will be highly impacted by sea level rise. This design takes into consideration this inevitability and embraces it. This proposal is one of the many ideas that show the resilience of underwater architecture to sustain and support life for years to come. 

A glimpse into the exhibition spaces_©


McLaughlin, K. (2022) 9 incredible underwater architecture projects around the world, Architectural Digest. Available at: (Accessed: 01 June 2023). 

‘under’ – Europe’s first underwater restaurant (no date) Snøhetta. Available at: (Accessed: 01 June 2023). 

Snohetta reveals design for First Underwater Restaurant in Europe (2021) Available at:,five%20meters%20below%20the%20surface%20of%20the%20ocean. (Accessed: 01 June 2023). 

Karlovac freshwater aquarium by studio 3LHD (2020) Architizer. Available at: (Accessed: 01 June 2023). 

{{Uistate. page.title()}} (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 01 June 2023). 

Piero lissoni’s New York City Aquarium (2016) urdesignmag. Available at: (Accessed: 01 June 2023). 


Naveen Raju is an assiduous Master of Architecture student at the University of Sydney. He is a curious individual who questions stringent ideologies and believes architecture is a positive facilitator for the communities it caters to. His main interests lie in understanding climate change, organic settlements and playing his piano!