Underwater Restaurant

Underwater restaurant Hurawalhi Island Resort

Project design lead, concept designer and structural engineer Mike Murphy had already designed one underwater restaurant, the Ithaa (Pearl) for a luxury Maldives resort.  His second underwater restaurant, also destined for the Maldives was for the Hurawalhi Island Resort. Mike knows it is attention to detail that makes or breaks the project. He was therefore unrelenting in his pursuit of finding the correct solution for each detail.

Origin’s brief was to design the fire safety, fire protection and emergency lighting systems. The team lead for Origin was Sajeesh Nair, with Wayne Joseph on fire protection and Clive Revie on emergency lighting.


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The restaurant, measuring 18 x 5 x 13 metres tall, was submerged 15 metres underwater at the spectacular Hurawalhi Island Resort. The 415 tonne structure was loaded onto a special Jumbo Shipping carrier in New Plymouth on 11 February 2016, arrived in the Maldives on 2 March and was lowered over the side to rest on eight steels piles.

The restaurant itself is completely Kiwi built and Kiwi designed and every solution was Kiwi-conceived. The main challenge for the project partners to understand how the fitted with the overall project – building a new island resort.

There were challenges. The Maldives has a different regulatory system and a much lower standard of regulatory control, so for example, building consent was granted on the basis of the artistic sketch designs. Further, many infrastructure decisions we needed to be made to support our design had not been completed in time for us to incorporate into our design.

In terms of conceptual design for the fire safety, we discovered that the Maldives Building Code was based on the 2011 version of the New Zealand Building Code but it had not been progressed to the next stage of producing Verification Methods or Acceptable Solutions. We elected to use the New Zealand Building Code Acceptable Solutions relevant at the time to demonstrate compliance with the Maldives Building Code.

When it came to designing fire detection systems and emergency lighting systems there was a strong emphasis on the visual appeal of all things seen within the restaurant and the effect it would have on the reflections in the acrylic tube that separated the diners from the sea around them. This meant finding the most unobtrusive and least reflective products.

To provide ballast to the restaurant to minimize the uplift caused when it is sunk, a large part of the restaurant was constructed from 40mm and thicker steel plate. This meant we need to create ‘shop drawing’ level design documentation because a contractor could not drill or cut holes to run their services once the structure was completed.

Having the project constructed in New Plymouth was a bonus because communication and inspections were relatively easy to carry out. However, the delivery date was critical in order to sink the restaurant in the Maldives in ideal weather conditions. The ship was locked into a due date for delivery.

This was such an exciting and innovative project. It required a higher level of design detailing than would normally be considered necessary for a building. Not all solutions were simple and perseverance was needed to find the right answers. And since the final connection points for services on Hurawalhi were fluid, a flexible attitude was also required to deal with problems as they arose.

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