“Underwater, I experience space with my body. I’ll see a school of fish gathering and moving together and I’ll exclaim, ‘This is architecture.”
Water is one of the prime elements amongst the five basic elements of survival of life on the earth which can be characterized by different visuals, psychological, and physical aspects. It establishes the link between various aspects like alive and inorganic, culture and nature, etc. Water becomes the main factor in rendering the huge sacred monument into something that can be physically experienced.
According to the time and place, the river valley civilizations flourished on the banks of rivers due to the availability of water for survival. Later on, some settlements flourished as islands over the sea when water became one of the mediums for transportation. Also, the oceans carry a different world with billions of species in it. Humans always had the curiosity to explore the unexplored world in search of survival possibilities. For Survival, the habitat becomes the prime factor and thus the term Underwater Architecture.
The relationship between water and humankind does not only involve the understanding of environmental behavior but also about our biological roots. It is believed that humans associated certain features of the landscape as offering greater chances for survival. Apart from being a physical necessity for survival, water bodies also acted as a defense mechanism from natural disasters, and it also became the anchor point for animals and plants survival on which humans also depended.
During earlier times, the civilizations had flourished on the water edges because the water was the predominant factor in the survival of humankind. So it can be said that human response to water and different water bodies resulted in domestic needs. Constant reliance on water and continuous fulfillment of their needs inspired mankind to shape water and water bodies in a variety of ways often influenced by topography, physiography, ecology, and geography of the area.
For a long time, the innovations in architecture were limited to attempting new heights, skyscrapers, towers, etc., but now several projects have tried to explore the depths of water and its potential for the possibilities of a habitat. Initially, the wow factor arises with the exploration of such a subaquatic place with an opportunity to see that underwater world without a wetsuit or a submersible.
In history, the role of water in designing structures differs at various levels. As said by Burchard and Flesche, the possible options to approach water structures can be classified as fixed structures that are constructed on piles driven into the sea bed, floating structures, ice structures, etc. All of them have been examined by architects except for underwater structures. Exploring the underwater structures has been a great desire and fantasy of humankind for ages.
“To live in and become part of the sea has long been a dream of humans, perhaps ranking second only to the desire to fly.”
-Miller and Koblick
Before the 21st century, the desire to explore underwater was merely a part of several stories stating its potential and need in the future. Later, it was stated that the use of ocean depths will become necessary for military purposes as well as resources like natural gas and petroleum.
With the constant innovation of technology, there were resources generated to study the great depths of the sea, and as a result, submarines and underwater habitats came into the picture. It was predicted by Burchard and Flesche that the rise in population, urbanization, heavy traffic, drought, and exhausted natural resources will lead to a search for new accommodation areas. In 1964, at a World fair in Newyork, the idea of habitats in space and underwater was presented, by 1970 the concepts of floating and underwater cities were widely published; Underwater City by Warren Chalk.
In the past 10-15 years, the concept of underwater architecture has evolved with the central idea of visual attraction. This notable change can be witnessed majorly in the tourism industry where observing the water kingdom from a closed transparent shell has gained immense popularity. The Villas in Maldives and Fiji provide an extraordinary experience by giving a chance to their guests to be surrounded by crystal clear water and tropical fishes.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island consists of Ithaa, which is the world’s first underwater restaurant. A step further to this innovation, aquarium walls are installed to enhance the experience at Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland hotel which is located 290 feet down into a lake. Snøhetta’s underwater restaurant in Norway provides a 112 feet long dining space with a 36 feet wide window offering a constantly changing water view according to seasons and time.
With rapid urbanization and an increase in population, there seems a wide possibility for architects and designers to explore the underwater architecture that serves a larger ecological purpose. Also, technological advancement will serve as a boon to excel in this new arena of architectural exploration.
-Inquiry into the un0derwater structures: architectural approaches to design considerations by dilşadkoyuncu (July,2007)
-Moore, c. W. And j. Lidz. Water+architecture. Japan: thames and hudson ltd., 1994.
-Ross, c. T. F. “a conceptual design of an underwater vehicle.” Ocean engineering 33, (elsevier ltd., 2005): 2087-2104.