Architecture has always dared to push the boundaries of innovation and imagination. It expands beyond the constraints of terrestrial structures, reaching into the skies, stretching out among trees, burrowing beneath the earth, and now venturing into the depths of water. Earth, a planet predominantly covered by water, with its vast oceans, remains an unexplored frontier. Surprisingly, less than ten per cent of our planet’s underwater realms have been investigated, leaving a staggering ninety per cent awaiting further exploration. Underwater architecture emerges as an evolving discipline in this uncharted territory, calling designers and engineers to delve into its unexplored depths and unravel its mysteries.
Underwater architecture refers to the design and construction of partially or entirely submerged underwater structures. As an architectural discipline, underwater architecture weaves together a tapestry of creativity, engineering expertise, and a profound understanding of the complexities of marine environments.
Within this article, we delve into the early establishments of underwater architecture, tracing its rich history and highlighting the remarkable achievements that have paved the way for this captivating field.
Conshelf II, also known as Continental Shelf Station II, was a large-scale project launched in 1963 by Jacques Cousteau’s team. It represented a significant advancement in underwater architecture and exploration. The purpose of Conshelf II was to investigate the feasibility of prolonged underwater living and further study the physiological and psychological effects on the human body in an underwater environment.
Deployed off the coast of Marseille in the Mediterranean Sea at approximately 33 feet, Conshelf II consisted of two interconnected cylindrical chambers designed to accommodate six aquanauts. The main habitat, called the ‘starfish,’ was situated alongside an aquarium, a workshop, and a garage. The station had three cabins with air conditioning, hot water, and a kitchen. The steel and acrylic structures allowed for natural light penetration, providing panoramic views of the marine environment.
Conshelf II aimed to establish a self-sustaining underwater environment. The habitat incorporated systems for generating electricity, producing clean air, and recycling water. It also featured a greenhouse for cultivating plants, supplying oxygen and food for the aquanauts.
La Chalupa, also known as Jules Undersea Lodge, is an underwater habitat in Puerto Rico. Originally built in the 1970s as a research laboratory, it was later converted into a hotel. The habitat is 21 feet below the surface and can only be accessed through scuba diving. It comprises two bedrooms, a common room, and a bathroom, accommodating up to six guests.
The lodge is named after Jules Verne, the renowned French author of the classic novel ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’ Its design draws inspiration from Verne’s vision of undersea exploration and his fictional submarine, the Nautilus. Each room is equipped with large windows that offer breathtaking views of the marine environment, allowing guests to observe colorful fish, coral reefs, and other fascinating underwater creatures.
Aquarius Reef Base
Aquarius Reef Base is an underwater habitat located in Florida, United States. Situated 62 feet below the ocean surface, adjacent to Conch Reef, Aquarius is a valuable research facility for marine biologists studying coral reefs.
Aquarius was designed by Perry Submarine Builders of Florida and built by Victoria Machine Works in 1986. It has bunk sleeping accommodations, a galley with a small kitchen, a restroom, and a workspace with desks and computers. To ensure a safe and habitable atmosphere, Aquarius is outfitted with modern life support systems, including carbon dioxide removal, temperature and humidity regulation, and oxygen provision.
One notable feature of Aquarius is its moon pool, an open vertical well on the floor of the habitat module. This moon pool allows divers to enter and exit the habitat with minimal pressure changes and facilitates easy access to the surrounding marine environment for scientific research and diving.
Utter Inn, Sweden
The Utter Inn is a floating underwater hotel designed by local artist and sculptor Mikael Genberg. It sits on its private floating island in Lake Vasteras, near Stockholm. The hotel consists of a tiny red hut with two anchors above the waterline and an underwater bedroom with two beds and a table. The above-water part contains a bathroom and kitchen. There is also a small deck space on the surface where guests can rest and take in the views of the lake.
The main architectural feature of Utter Inn is its submerged bedroom with large windows, providing guests with beautiful underwater views. With basic furnishings and facilities, the minimalist interior design ensures a cosy and comfortable stay. Utter Inn’s floating construction also contains a staircase that connects the surface area to the submerged bedroom.
Undersea Spa in Huvafen Fushi, Maldives
The Undersea Spa in Huvafen Fushi is the world’s first and only underwater spa, 9 meters below the surface in the Maldives. The spa is designed with innovative engineering and stunning aesthetics, creating a serene underwater sanctuary.
The Undersea Spa is partially submerged and provides panoramic views of the surrounding coral reef and marine life through large glass windows. Its underwater treatment rooms, located below the water level, feature floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the vibrant marine life outside.
The strategic placement of large glass windows throughout the spa allows guests to enjoy uninterrupted views of the underwater world. From the treatment rooms and relaxation areas, guests can witness the mesmerising dance of colourful fish, coral reefs, and other marine creatures, immersing themselves in the serene beauty of the ocean.
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant (Maldives)
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, established in 2005, stands at the culmination of a lengthy jetty submerging approximately 5 meters (16 feet) beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. This extraordinary establishment allows patrons to feast their eyes on the awe-inspiring marine environment as they immerse themselves beneath the ocean’s surface.
The restaurant predominantly utilises transparent acrylic in its construction, providing an unobstructed view of the underwater world. The elegantly curved walls and roof of Ithaa create a sense of enclosure while maintaining an intimate connection to the oceanic surroundings.
Upon arrival, guests are welcomed into a spacious and exquisitely designed dining area. Access to the restaurant is facilitated by a descending staircase, heightening the sensation of entering a captivating underwater realm. The central dining room boasts expansive floor-to-ceiling windows offering a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of the underwater environment.
Underwater Room at the Manta Resort (Pemba Island, Tanzania)
The Manta Resort is an all-inclusive resort on Pemba Island, Tanzania. The architectural elements of the resort demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and the preservation of the local ecosystem. The resort was constructed to blend in with nature, incorporating sustainable materials, innovative processes, and a well-planned layout.
One of the standout features of the resort is the Swedish-designed underwater room, which floats in the Indian Ocean near Pemba Island in Zanzibar. Anchored approximately 250 meters from the shore, this unique room offers guests the experience of sleeping beneath the ocean’s surface while being immersed in the captivating marine life of the Indian Ocean. The room has three levels, including a rooftop terrace, a landing deck at sea level, and an underwater bedroom that provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding marine environment.
Atlantis, The Palm (Dubai, UAE)
Atlantis, The Palm, is a renowned luxury resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It is celebrated for its unique blend of elements inspired by the mythical city of Atlantis and Arabian and oceanic influences. A notable architectural highlight of the resort is the Lost Chambers Aquarium, where guests can immerse themselves in an underwater world, traversing tunnels and passages reminiscent of the ruins of Atlantis. The aquarium offers a captivating experience with diverse marine life, including fish, sharks, and rays.
The interior design of Atlantis, The Palm, exudes opulence and elegance, with lavish furnishings, exquisite mosaics, and grand chandeliers. The vibrant colours, such as blues and gold, further contribute to the overall sense of luxury and reflect the coastal theme of the resort.
Underwater Ocean Suite at Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore
The Equarius Ocean Suites, located within Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, showcases a distinctive architectural spectacle. This exceptional accommodation option features a two-story townhouse design that integrates land and sea views seamlessly. The upper level boasts an open living area leading to an outdoor patio and Jacuzzi. In contrast, the lower level offers an extraordinary underwater perspective, revealing captivating views of over 40,000 marine fish from the bedroom enclosed by an expansive acrylic window.
Ocean Suites demonstrates an environmentally conscious approach to architectural design. The underwater level has a sophisticated filtration system, ensuring optimal water quality and promoting a thriving marine habitat. The development also incorporates energy-efficient technologies and materials, actively reducing its carbon footprint and embracing sustainable practices.
In this era of unprecedented technological advancements and heightened environmental awareness, the field of underwater architecture beckons architects, designers, and visionaries to explore the captivating realm where design and construction intersect with the unique behaviour of water. Standing at the threshold of this awe-inspiring domain, we find ourselves at the confluence of imagination, innovation, and a profound respect for the world’s oceans.
Underwater architecture represents a frontier yet to be fully explored, offering an invitation to plunge into the mysteries beneath the waves. It embodies the continuation of the architectural legacy, challenging boundaries, expanding horizons, and shaping a future that harmonises with the breathtaking wonders of our watery planet.
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