How Does Architecture Differ Under Water?

February 16, 2021

Underwater has always been something that made people curious. Just like space exploration, the mysterious ocean has become a focal point of dreamlike fantasy. For this reason, people have found ways to explore the sea and enjoy its enigmatic beauty.

Scuba diving, diving, submarine rides, and aquariums are only some of the things that come to mind when you think about the many ways you can see underwater. However, with the genius of architecture, constructing buildings underwater has become a reality. Although underwater construction has been around for a while, gorgeous architecture for recreation is quite a novel idea.

For instance, Norway's underwater restaurant, ‘Under,’ is the first of its kind in Europe. Amazingly, this restaurant reaches 19 feet underwater. On the seafloor, people can eat a sumptuous meal of seafood while seeing the underwater view of the Indian Ocean.

As these incredible buildings gain more popularity throughout the world, more people can get closer to the ocean as a natural wonder. But, simultaneously, the world is also introduced to underwater architecture as a marvel to behold.

We've always wondered at how the great pyramids were built or how the Colosseum was designed. There are all kinds of historical structures that reflect man's genius when it comes to surpassing architecture norms. Modern architecture is no different. More architects are finding ways to break through standards, not just to amaze people but also to set new benchmarks in construction and design.

While underwater buildings might seem like a scene that you can watch in sci-fi movies, it's now becoming more increasingly prevalent. However, because of the difficulties and cost of these intricate structures, there are only a handful of these structures found worldwide. Still, with further research and development, we can expect more underwater architecture soon.

Here are some ways underwater architecture differs:

  1. Takes Environment Into Consideration

Underwater and outer space are quite similar in terms of how both have specific needs when building a structure. Theoretically, a structure underwater is imaginable. But, in reality, it isn't that easy because we've been used to constructing buildings on solid ground.

Since earth and water are entirely different habitats, the surroundings, physics, and environment are altogether foreign. The architectural knowledge and practices that we commonly use might be useless in the marine environment.

Fortunately, there are now several procedures for underwater welding, and each has its purpose and specifications. While this process originated on land, it has been adapted to build aquatic architectural feats. You can learn more about underwater welding here.

  1. Dealing With Fluid Mechanics

Another aspect that underwater architecture delves into is Fluid Mechanics. Essentially, this is all about the forces of fluids, such as liquids, plasmas, and gases. This is important since underwater pressure changes depending on how deep it is.

The ocean is a challenging environment to build in. As mentioned, depending on the area or depth, the hydrostatic pressure varies. This is why usual structures that can withstand wind, storms, and even earthquakes won’t work underwater. Instead, they change the geometry into something that can resist this pressure.

  1. Geometry And Surface Structures

By considering creatures that live underwater, those that can withstand hydrostatic pressure, they usually take up a curved shape. Certain mollusks and even sea urchins are some of the animals that inspired this curved architectural design. Thus, curved underwater structures are used instead of angled and geometric ones.

Surface structures, also known as thin plates or shells, are made from thin materials under tension. These are bent or shaped into different shapes, like plates, arches, cylinders, and more.

Two types of surface structures are compression surfaces and tension surfaces. Compression surfaces are more rigid than tension surfaces to avoid buckling altogether. The curved compression surface structures are all called shells.

Shells have been used in all kinds of technology and structures even before underwater architecture. For instance, it’s been used for domes, curved roofs, silos, tunnels, submarines, and many more. In layman's terms, this curved design acts like a membrane that resists uniform pressure. Think of how a rubber balloon doesn't pop immediately even when stretched out with air.

  1. Underwater Materials

The materials chosen should be able to resist and withstand extreme pressure from ‘stress-cycles.’ Other vital features include corrosion resistance, strong materials that shouldn’t sink, good sound absorption, easy to manufacture, works well with the pressure hull design, fire-resistant, durable, and cost-effective.

Titanium, steel, and aluminum are some of the materials used for pressure vessels. But the most used high strength steel is HY-80, but these are usually used for merchant ships, pressure vessels, and even storage tanks.

As for construction, aluminum alloys are favored. Although these are prone to corrosion, they’re easy to produce and it’s economical. Another preferred choice would be titanium alloys due to their strength/weight ratio. However, this material is known to be pricey.

  1. Avoiding Corrosion

The need to avoid corrosion isn't unique to underwater architecture. However, the factor of water, especially seawater, can increase the possibility of corrosion.

As mentioned before, aluminum alloys are preferred materials. However, its vulnerability to corrosion can be detrimental. Therefore, protective coatings will be necessary to deter corrosion. This can be in the form of paint, coatings, epoxies, and others.

  1. Habitability

Another point that underwater architecture needs to include in the design is to make the interior safe and comfortable for humans. It's a bit nerve-wracking to think that when you're in an underwater resort or restaurant, the only thing protecting you from the wrath of the ocean is the structure and a thick type of glass.

Moreover, to make it a suitable environment for people, they need to ensure an oxygen supply and circulation for carbon dioxide removal. Trace contaminant control is also essential to make sure that the area is completely safe for people.

  1. Insulation

It's also important to control heat and to deal with condensation. Keeping the interior at a comfortable temperature for people relies on insulation. However, when it comes to heating, condensation will be a problem. Thus, insulation is necessary.

Insulation is installed either inside the structure or outside. But some don’t support inside insulation due to fire hazards.

  1. Openings

Ports, maintenance holes, and windows for underground architecture usually function as a viewing deck. Seeing the marine-life and engaging environment through thick glass or acrylic plastic is the cherry on top of the whole design.

While it’s such an essential piece for underground restaurants and resorts, in terms of hull integrity, it does cause some problems. Reinforcing these parts will be necessary, and the amount of reinforcement will depend on the size of the opening.

  1. Entrance Point

The entry point is one of the most critical aspects of underwater architecture. Some underwater structures can be reached on land, which starts from either a horizontal, vertical, or sloping tunnel that leads to the underground facilities.

Another entrance design can be found on the water level, and it can be reached by boats or a bridge. Then, the entrance leads to a tunnel that leads vertically down to the structure.

  1. Features For Human Comfort

People are used to certain comforts and amenities. Without these, the structures won't be attractive places for people to visit, mostly if they’re made to become tourist attractions, like restaurants or resorts.

Therefore, it's essential to take all these features and bring them underwater. Simple light fixtures and a flushing toilet might seem simple in the context of our homes. However, underwater, it's an entirely different situation.

For people to function and feel comfortable in these fantastic architectural feats, achieving the following details should always be considered:

  • Waste management: organic waste disposal from restrooms and kitchens.
  • Breathable atmosphere: oxygen supply and carbon dioxide removal.
  • Water supply: for sanitation, consumption, climate control, fire prevention, and occupancy.
  • Electrical system: uninterrupted electricity as a source for heating, lighting, and appliance use.
  • Mechanical system: air conditioning, temperature control, air motion, and managing humidity.

While these features are easier than traditional buildings, underwater structures will be more challenging. Add to that the pressure of creating a beautiful and inviting atmosphere that’s perfect for any underwater resort or restaurant.

  1. Safety

Cracks might be ignorable for typical buildings, but they can pose a severe risk for underwater structures. Any change in pressure inside the structure or outside can cause aggravation to the already existing damage.

There’s already an existing risk to having this man-made structure in one of mother nature's most dangerous parts. So, to keep people safe, some emergency measures are necessary, just like any other building.

In case of these dangerous situations, emergency exits for people should be a priority. Moreover, emergency entrances are also needed for rescuers and divers.

Plus, shelters on land should be made available in case these situations should arise. Lastly, emergency submarines to help people evacuate.


These are only some of the essential features that are considered when it comes to underwater architecture. It's a complex science, as well as a form of art.

Seeing these gorgeous architectural marvels might seem like something straight out of a fairytale. But hard work, research, and achievements of architecture, construction, and design made this possible.

Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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