The Life Aquatic

For those of us that have lived in Dubai for a few years, the unveiling of an underwater hotel in the emirate was accompanied by a strong sense of déjà vu.

Back in 2006, a design was revealed for a hotel called Hydropolis, that would have been the world’s first underwater luxury resort.

It was to be submerged 20m beneath the surface just off Jumeirah Beach and original costs for construction were around $435m.

But like many grandiose schemes conceived in the boom, the Hydropolis project was washed away in the tide of the credit crunch.

Now, several years later, the shipbuilding arm of Dubai World, Drydocks World, announced it has signed an agreement with a Swiss contractor to develop an underwater hotel in the emirate.

While the Hydropolis felt like something from a comic book, the newly-unveiled Water Discus Hotel seems more appealing and architectural, with a modernist meets space-age aesthetic.

I would hazard a guess that the design influences include Oscar Niemeyer’s saucer-like art gallery in Rio de Janeiro and the Enterprise from Star Trek.

Yet the question on most people’s lips will be: “is this a real project?” Certainly, the conviction of the press release would make you believe it’s not pie in the sky (or sea).
Cynics should take note of the Maldives Rangali Island resort, which contains an underwater section built in 2010.

Admittedly, this is just a single room – a luxurious honeymoon suite – but its existence shows that it is technically, and perhaps economically, feasible to ‘sleep with the fishes’, as a movie gangster might say.

However, the backers of the scheme must surely realise that the crystal clear view of aquatic life, as depicted in the renderings, may be tough to replicate in Dubai waters. Anyone that has ever scuba dived in the emirate will know that the visibility can be decidedly poor, particularly in the areas that have been dredged.

One of the big challenges will be finding a location that is suitable – this was one of the key issues with Hydropolis, in addition to several other problems.

In December 2008, Crescent Hydropolis CEO Uwe Hohmann told Construction Week that a new location must be found, as the original spot, to the west of the Palm Jumeirah, was deemed unsuitable due to new construction.

“It was proven that the original location was not ideal. At the time that this location was discussed there was no Jumeirah Beach Residence in place. A project like Hydropolis needs to have the right location,” commented Hohmann.

The backers of the latest underwater hotel in Dubai should be wary that a fish-view room might lose a lot of its appeal if you can’t see any fish.

Oliver Ephgrave is the editor of Middle East Architect