Architecture Approaches to Underwater Structures

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1.1 Introduction

The ocean is the dominant feature of the Earth covering 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of the planet's water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored (NOAA, 2013). Ocean as a resource of great potential in many aspects has always been a dream of the human beings to be fully utilized and explored. Since before recorded history, oceans have been used for transport, for food, for conquest and for waste disposal. Many attempts of various techniques, vehicles and underwater structures were carried out to fulfill the desire of human beings towards the underwater world.

There have been numerous submerged built forms for human habitation designed, built and used around the world since the early 1960’s, either by private individuals or by government agencies. The purpose of these underwater applications at the earlier stage was used almost exclusively for military purposes and scientific exploration, but in the recent years, some submerged structures were provided for recreation and tourism purposes. However, underwater is a comparatively new medium for human to use for accommodation and entertainment with its unique characteristics and providing unusual experiences.

Human beings are always fond to explore and seek new knowledge. However the underwater world is still a great barrier that is yet to be fully explored and studied. Although many proposals were made by create an underwater habitat for humans, only few of them were able to be realized. Hence, the design, construction, structural requirements and materials of submerged structures should be taken into studied and analyzed in order to gain deeper understanding and to establish design fundamentals and guidelines to follow in the future.

Development in technology gave architects courage to design in new environments and search for new trends. Among them, underwater design is a new concept and it is different from the terrestrial ones which architects are familiar with. Water has been utilized with different approaches by designers for thousands of years. It has played an important role in the development of cities. Water has been integrated into architecture itself as a design element in many ways, for instance a surface of a building, interior design element and landscape element. On the other hand, underwater is a new subject which is worth to study for architects (Koyuncu, 2007).

At present, there are a few underwater hotels and restaurants that have been built and operating. These projects can be chosen as the case study for this dissertation regarding their architectural approaches. In fact, with the advancement of technology today and in the near future, it is highly possible to create underwater structures which will meet the spatial and human comfort requirements. Although for now, submerged structures for accommodation can be considered as an experimental idea, but in the future, design and construction of underwater structures, even underwater cities, may be required as it could also be the solution for the issue of rising water level and land scarcity. I believe that human fantasies on this unusual living environment are likely to achieve in the future.

1.2 Problem Statement

In the future underwater structures may be essential. As noted by Burchard and Flesche, problems, such as the rapid and irregular increase in human population, disorganized urbanization, heavy traffic, drought, and exhausting of natural and energy source, led to search for alternative accommodation areas (Felix Flesche, 2005). Within this perspective, space and underwater were stated as the potential habitats for human being in future.

Human beings need air to survive. To stay underwater, one needs to be aided by apparatus such as scuba gear. In this case, one is directly affected by the ambient atmospheric pressure. Staying in underwater for too long may cause scuba diving diseases such as decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis and oxygen toxicity. Other hazards such as injuries due to contact with the solid surroundings and hazards of marine animals are also the disadvantages of human in direct contact with the underwater environment. To stay longer than one can stay during scuba diving, an underwater structure is needed to provide an environment to carry out basic human functions for an extended period of time.

The challenge of creating an underwater accommodation is placing humans at an environment that is outside their living condition. In order to overcome this challenge, they should be made as similar to the original living environment as possible. Most early underwater structures for accommodation lacked of regenerative systems for air, water, electricity, food and other resources. They have problems channeling the services required into the habitat, air quality control and vaporization caused by the internal and external temperature difference and the accessibility to the structures.

However, recently some new submerged structures allow resources to be delivered through pipes or generated within the habitat. Underwater structures tend to have very bulky structures to withstand the hydrostatic pressure with very small openings. The structures hinder the light from penetrating in and not much view to the underwater environment was provided. The science and technology of diving, diving bells, submersible vehicles and submarines, and spacecraft were employed in the invention of underwater structures.

The underwater world has been seen to be a great potential in exploring new living context and yet the underwater habitats techniques and technology at present have not been fully explored. Along with the desire of mankind and the developments in marine technology, architects began to propose this outstanding challenge especially in recent years. Therefore the study on architectural approaches to underwater design and its considerations will be valuable for architects as references for future exploration.

1.3 Objectives

The primary objective of this research is to examine the architecture approaches of underwater structures according to the conditions and the limitation of the environment. The aim is to study the design and structural requirements and to evaluate the design characteristic in architectural aspects of the underwater structures. To explore on the environment control systems for human comfort in the confined submerged structures, in which it is a very crucial study for underwater living. Aiming to analyze the potential basic architectural criteria needed to take into consideration when designing an underwater habitat, it is to contribute relevant findings to the lack of architectural reviews on this topic for future research and other related applications.

1.4 Scopes

The focus of this dissertation is to study submerged built forms. This paper will focus on the design consideration and construction of submerged built forms. Architectural design aspects of the submerged structures including the forms, openings, accessibility and construction will be studied. Secondary data will be gathered and analyzed including comparison of case study of submerged built forms.

1.5 Methodology

The methods that have been used in this dissertation are basically based on theoretical and experimental research of the underwater design and construction. The research is started on with finding information through reading books and journals after the research title is confirmed. Little information was found as this research topic is still new in the architectural field. However, studies on former examples from engineering point of view are still reachable. Since the topic is fairly new, many researches can only be done via internet information searching. Related facts are then filtered to be gathered for this dissertation.

Methodology Flow Diagram

Determination of dissertation topic

General reading and search of materials

Preparation of dissertation framework

Draft of the list of content

Chapter division

Collection of data on books, journal and internet

Information selection

Writing of dissertation

Information comparison and analysis

1.6 Outline of the Chapter

Chapter 1- Introduction

The first chapter gives a preface to this dissertation, defining the scopes, the intention and the methodology adopted of this research. It conveys the overall context of this research so that the readers are clear on the aspects discussed in this dissertation.

Chapter 2- Overview of Submerged Built Forms

The second chapter provides an overview of underwater structures. In this chapter, the history and development of underwater structures including submarines and underwater habitats throughout the years will be discussed. The basic principles applied, the characteristic and function of the underwater habitats will also be elaborated. Architecture adopts technologies of other fields in this new environment.

Chapter 3- Design Consideration of Submerged Built Forms

The investigations on architectural approach to submerged built forms were conducted in the third chapter. Considerations such as the selection of site, land-water relationship, accessibility, dependency of land, degree of openings and safety issues will be discussed. Form and geometry of the underwater structures were investigated as the forms depend a lot on the hydrostatic pressure underwater.

Chapter 4- Construction of Submerged Built Forms

Structural considerations of submerged structures will be further discussed in the fourth chapter. Adequate knowledge about conditions and limitations of the environment and basic design considerations from engineering point of view will be provided. Structural components needed in order to build submerged structures are elaborated. Investigation in the materials used and fabrication, construction technology and the building services will also be elaborated.

Chapter 5- Environmental Control Systems for Human Comfort

In the fifth chapter will discuss on the environmental control systems of human comfort within a confined underwater habitat. Elements such as atmospheric pressure, air quality, human thermal comfort including air temperature, humidity and air velocity will be elaborated briefly. Lighting and some safety features used in submerged built forms will be discussed in this chapter as well.

Chapter 6- Case Study

In the sixth chapter, case studies will be elaborated based on a few components, which will be the design considerations and the construction. A comparative study and analysis on the contemporary examples will be made to evaluate the fundamental approaches to underwater design and structural requirements. Design goals will be mentioned which should be taken into consideration to achieve a livable space under water. Results of this comparative study will be discussed with comments and suggestions.

Chapter 7- Conclusion

This chapter will conclude the topic based on the objectives, scope and the analysis of the study. This chapter also illustrates the suggestion on the idea of the submerged built forms.