Architecture, Developments, Travel

The World’s First Underwater Hotel Villa

In 2005, architect Ahmed Saleem deferred his dreams and settled for opening the world’s first underwater restaurant, Ithaa, at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort. At Ithaa, diners can eat five-star cuisine, five meters under the Indian Ocean, watching sharks and blue tangs swim past as they dine under an acrylic canopy. It’s an architectural marvel that would be the highlight of many designers’ resumes, but not for Mr. Saleem, as he is known around the resort. What Mr. Saleem really wanted to build was an underwater bedroom where he could spend the night dreaming under the sea and wake under the waves. This year, he finally got his dream in The Muraka, an all-glass hotel room that sits 16.5 feet under sea level.

Innovation lies at the heart of Rangali Island: The resort was the first hotelier in the Maldives to perch villas on stilts above the water, the first to open an underwater restaurant, and now they are the first to sink a residence into the briny depths. The Muraka, which translates to “coral” in the local language, Dhivehi, is made of steel, concrete, and acrylic, and designed with the local ecosystem in mind. (The hotel has marine biologists on staff to ensure that the sunken villa has minimal impact on the surrounding coral.)

The entire lower suite was built on land in Singapore, fittingly made of acrylic from Japan’s premiere aquarium manufacturer Nippura Co., and sealed with Shin Etsu Marine sealant, which was used in the construction of Ithaa Undersea Restaurant. Then the 600-ton structure was hoisted by crane onto a specialized ship that could transport it to the Maldives and moor near the reef without damaging it. It was then submerged into the ocean and held firmly in place by 10 concrete piles that ensure it will not move or shift due to a high tide or rough seas.

From there it was just a question of connecting the suite’s upper and lower levels and transforming the space from an acrylic tube into a luxurious vacation destination. That was done by Yuji Yamazaki Architecture, a Tokyo design firm, which created a seamless upstairs-downstairs space. The upper level is made of glass walls that offer views of the waves, a private jetty, infinity pool, and secluded decks. Guests can either take an elevator or follow a spiral staircase down, like Alice’s rabbit hole, to descend into a watery wonderland. There the curved ceiling, wide windows, and fish peep show bathroom make for a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone with mermaid dreams. Sleep with the fish, drink coffee with the coral, and some lucky residents might even glimpse turtles, stingrays, or even sharks staring disapprovingly through the glass.

Of course, once-in-a-lifetime experiences don’t come cheap. At around $50,000 night—technically, a four-night vacation package of around $200,000—the price tag for a vacation under the sea is hefty. However, it is much more than just a hotel room. Guests at The Muraka are flown in on a private seaplane that lands at their own private jetty or picked up from the main resort in a speedboat that’s theirs to use for the rest of their stay. The Muraka itself is perched out in the ocean, far from the Conrad’s beach villas and over-water bungalows, for maximum privacy. The suite comes with dedicated staff, including a butler and a chef, to facilitate round-the-clock service, and everything else from massage therapists to facialists to trainers can be arranged and included in the (hefty) price tag. Guests are also awarded Diamond Honors Hilton status after booking the suite as a little souvenir of the stay, although the experience will undoubtedly be unforgettable.

Article originally posted by Architectural Digest

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