A picture at dusk of Snøhetta's underwater restaurant in Norway. Photo: Ivar Kvaal

Why Are We Turning to Underwater Design?

With such revolutionary designs as Snøhetta’s underwater restaurant in Norway to the Conrad Maldives hotel, architects are pushing the boundaries by building in new and exciting environments

For a long time, architectural innovation has primarily been about attempting to reach new heights with towering skyscrapers and mega-developments. But recently, several projects have tried to plumb the depths, trading views of the city for those of marine life. So what has taken architects out of the clouds and under the sea? For starters, there’s a wow-factor that comes with a subaquatic space, offering an opportunity to see a part of the word rarely seen without a wetsuit or submersible.

Several underwater attractions have been built in the Maldives and Fiji, taking the region’s overwater villas to the next level and giving guests the chance to be surrounded by the crystal-clear water and tropical fish. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is home to Ithaa, the world’s first underwater restaurant, and the Muraka, a suite with a submerged lower level. In China, InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland hotel is set in an abandoned quarry, with part of it built into the ground, reaching nearly 290 feet down into a lake. Aquarium walls were installed underwater to heighten the experience.

several tables with chairs around them
Photo: Ivar KvaalInside the Snøhetta-designed restaurant, located off the coast of Norway.

But underwater design can be more than just a tourist attraction. For Under, a restaurant off the coast of Lindesnes, Norway, architectural firm Snøhetta was tasked with creating a structure that would serve multiple purposes. “The initial idea of designing an underwater restaurant at Norway’s southern tip came from our client, brothers Stig and Gaute Ubostad,” says architect and project manager Rune Grasdal. “We had never before designed anything of this kind but found the idea very intriguing, particularly because the structure not only was going to be used as a restaurant but also would play an important role as a marine research center.”

two people in a room under water
Photo: Justin NicholasA view of the Muraka, a hotel that’s submerged under water.

The firm devised a nearly 112-foot-long form with a 40-person dining room that sits on the seabed. A 36-foot-wide window gives guests a water view, which varies based on the season and time of day. The structure was designed to become a part of its environment with a concrete façade that will function as an artificial reef. Measurement tools and cameras were installed on and outside the exterior and will provide data to visiting researchers.

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