Week of September 15, 2003
Snapshot from the Field
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Sleepin' with the Fishes:
$550M Underwater Hotelby JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing
Launched in Dubai
DUBAI, Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates You may soon be able to sleep with the fishes in the Middle East - and in luxury, which you might well expect when you're paying as much as US$5,500 for a day's lodging.
No, it's not some demented landlord's warped reworking of The Godfather script. Instead, it's the $500-million Hydropolis Hotel (http://hydropolis.com) now being launched in Dubai, the capital city of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates.
The project is nothing if not ambitious. Constructed from a combination of concrete, steel and clear Plexiglas, Hydropolis will be the world's first underwater luxury hotel. It will offer 220 suites, all sitting on the Persian Gulf floor 66 feet (20 meters) below the surface.
"I am sure that this project will create an international sensation and will also be the beginning of a new era in architecture," Joachim Hauser, the German architect and investor who's spearheading the project, said at last month's project announcement in Dubai.
Covering 27 acres (10.8 hectares), the project will feature architecture that's nothing if not attention-grabbing. The design includes three linked elements: a wave-shaped 333,333-sq.-ft. (30,000-sq.-m) above-ground "land station" and the jellyfish-shaped 833,333-sq.-ft. (75,000-sq.-m.) underwater hotel, linked by a submerged transparent train tunnel that's 1,700 feet (515 meters) long.
Among the project's other unusual architectural details are the hotel's two translucent domes, which will house a concert auditorium and a ballroom that break the water's surface, with the ballroom featuring a retractable roof. And that's not to mention the hotel's bubble-shaped suites, with clear glass comprising both the sleeping areas' walls and each room's bathtub.
"Hydropolis imparts a unique impression of distinctiveness and exclusivity, an attraction that does not diminish after a first phase of curiosity," Hauser said in his press conference presentation. "Guests from all over the world and from all cultures will be attracted by a multitude of offers, which simultaneously address mind, body and soul in an unparalleled manner. It is the dream of all humankind to live in and explore the sea."
Dubai ED Arm Backing ProjectHydropolis to many observers may also seem a (water) pipe dream supreme.
Project inventor and designer Hauser, though, is very intent on bringing his vision to reality. So, too, is the Dubai Development and Investment Authority (DDIA at www.ddia.ae). The DDIA not only recruited the project; it's also finding private investors to provide the rest of the project funding.
"The DDIA has worked on offering all the facilities to attract the owner of this idea to realize his dreams in Dubai," DDIA Deputy Director-General Salem bin Dasmal said of the Hydropolis Hotel project. "This is part of our ongoing effort to promote Dubai as a perfect hub to attract investments in projects spread across all sectors."
Hydropolis' well-publicized launch, however, hasn't moved the actual hotel very far forward. That relates to the fact that bin Dasmal said that only some 20 percent of total project funding has thus far been raised.
Hauser has set up Hydropolis Holding in Dubai to promote the project. And a factory, he added, is being built at an undisclosed location to make 16-inch (41-centimeter) Plexiglas that can withstand underwater pressures three times greater than the force of surface air.
Construction Will Borrow from SubmarineFunding, though, is not Hydropolis Hotel's only major challenge. There's also the worrisome task of constructing a largely underwater development.
Construction, Offshore Oil/Gas Installations
The project team will borrow construction technologies employed in submarines and offshore oil and gas installations, Hauser said. Floating caissons, he explained, will be towed to the site, which is some 990 feet (300 meters) off the coast of Jumeirah, an upscale area in west Dubai. The caissons will allow construction in a dry environment.
In addition, the caissons' watertight cavities, explained Hauser, will "provide the required space for piping and tubing, decentralized air-conditioning systems, storage and preparation rooms, restaurants, and staff rooms. As the building gradually increases in height and weight during the construction process, it will be gradually lowered until it reaches its final position and will then be firmly anchored."
Most of the construction within and above the caissons will be concrete, he said.
In addition, the building team will face a dizzying range of structures. In addition to the aforementioned features, the project will include three bars, a cosmetic surgery clinic, a marine biology research institute, a library, a museum, prayer rooms, a private cinema, a retail area selling ocean-related wares, and three 150-seat restaurants.
Builders will also be installing the hotel's security features, including missile-detecting radar and watertight doors that can seal off entire sections of the facility.
And then there are the intricacies of the hotel's myriad multimedia features.
Each room, for example, will have an adjustable control panel for changing settings for lighting, patterns, sounds and even smells. A "water screen" will also be positioned between the hotel and the shore, with colored lights and images projected on its surface at night. In addition, colorful images visible to both guests and on shore will be projected nightly onto the domes' roofs. And the glass-heavy hotel will protect guests from the Mid East's broiling sun with artificial clouds, produced by a giant fog machine above the surface.
Dubai Frequently Home toHydropolis may sound more than a little far-fetched. Unusual projects, though, often spring to life in Dubai, aided by a government eager to promote the city as a revenue-generating tourist destination.
"To receive a location in Dubai for the first underwater luxury hotel worldwide," Hauser noted, "is a notable stroke of good fortune. The progressiveness, the internationality and the open-mindedness in this country is singular without comparison."
Dubai, for example, is home to the recently opened, sail-shaped Burj al Arab, the world's tallest hotel. Compared to Hydropolis, the 27-story, 1,059-foot (321-meter) hotel is a bargain, with rates topping out at about $1,700 a day. (And that's with free transport to and from the airport via Rolls Royce or helicopter.)
Hydropolis guests will also be able to see (through the retractable roof) the $3-billion Palm Island project that's now being developed on reclaimed land. Shaped like a palm tree, the island will have 2,000 villas and as many as 40 luxury hotels, plus upscale retail complexes, cinemas and a marine park.
Hydropolis, then, would seem right at home in Dubai. That is, if the project comes to full fruition. Hauser said that he's pointing toward completing the hotel by October of 2006.
Even if Hydropolis happens, though, envelope-pushing Dubai won't claim the distinction of having the world's first underwater hotel. The first is actually Jules' Underwater Lodge, a converted research laboratory in Key Largo, Fla. Jules' Underwater Lodge, however, is far more modest, aiming mostly for scuba divers and offering only two small bedrooms and a communal area that measures eight feet by 20 feet (2.4 meters by 6.1 meters).
It does, though, share a distinction with the far more tony Hydropolis. Jules' Underwater Lodge was named for Jules Verne. That same author's novel, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, inspired Hauser's submerged dream.
Editor's note: For a look at other massive projects that are changing the site selection scenario, see "The 2003 Global Infrastructure Report" in the brand-new September issue of Site Selection.