The biggest disadvantage in the task of constructing a new generation of underwater habitats is at the same time the biggest advantage: there are almost no corresponding references and examples, since most habitats fall into the shelter category. Therefore, when developing a larger station, most of the details have to be reconsidered. At the same time, because of this circumstance we are completely free to give it a look as we wish as long as we stay within the limitations of safety, which is, of course, the most important aspect. All materials should be carefully selected in terms of inflammability, predisposition for mould and stability. The second aspect is the functionality: all equipments should be easily accessible and usage should not be limited because of design preferences. The third group of aspects covers the habitability for long-term participants and attractivity for potential visitors. We have to agree on a colour and design scheme accordingly that should be followed.
As a reference for this enterprise usage of plans and results of developments for space travel seem to be suitable and appropriate. Many of these documents are freely available and are good sources for the planning of underwater constructions.
It must be noted, that we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Many comments reminded us, that there are several off-the-shelf solutions we should gladly prefer.
In the following section the different components will be opened for discussion. Feel free to contribute your ideas and proposals over the comment box below this article.
There are several different proposals for appropriate decompression infrastructure. While decompression in Aquarius habitat takes place within the habitat itself (the main part of the habitat is sealed off), there could be a separate section apart from the main section or even an external habitat used for decompression in the end of a mission. Additionally there are decompression chambers on the supporting vessel for the case of unplanned surfacing of aquanauts or severe states of emergencies. We generally tend to a solution including more than one alternative: a decompression section inside the habitat AND an additional external habitat. This external habitat is identical with the first mobile habitat. The following considerations concern the internal decompression section.
It seems most suitable to have a section inside the main habitat to follow the decompression sequences, which can be operated both from inside and outside the chamber (with additional support from a surface based diver or remotely from the land base if necessary). There are ready made solutions available. The decompression chamber should have appr. the size of a standard freight container: 8ft (2.43m) wide, 8.5ft (2.59m) high, 20ft (6.06m) long = 14.73 m².
Aquanauts would be decompressed to surface pressure inside the chamber and then rapidly compressed back to hatch depth. After leaving the chamber they would ascent by scuba diving back to the surface according to standard diving tables. If the main habitat is 20m deep they would have 30 minutes to don diving gear and 10 minutes to exit the habitat and return to the surface.
The decompression chamber should be large enough to house the total amount of mission participants, probably a number of six.
Image: 玄史生 / CC0; source Wikimedia Commons
For information about the Underwater Access Space, Trunk, Hatch, Moonpool and Wet Room please refer to the article Habitat Entrance.
As already mentioned in the introduction we are planning to implement a connecting corridor inside the main habitat. Until now all habitats were designed as one compartment with different areas or as a series of rooms with different functions. To reach one of those rooms you had to pass several others (see habitat ‘Tektite’). In the CalamarPark Undersea Habitat all rooms of the structure will be reachable over a corridor which is part of each module. This continuing corridor ensures reaching each room without passing all the others. Institutions will be able to rent their own space. Sleeping areas and machinery will be physically split from each other, while the corridor itself will be equipped with chatting tables beside windows to the underwater world. A corridor like that might seem like dead space, but it is an inevitable part of the structure and an important architectural feature playing a huge role in establishing the human social environment.
Corridor installations will include:
- a total area of appr. 9 m² (preferable square 3x3m, or slightly rectangle)
- at least two windows
- at least two sets of bar tables with corresponding chairs
- at least two control displays
- folding tables to be used as work stations with connections to the IT infrastructure
- at least two sets of fire extinguishers
- sufficient air circulation systems
- lighting: standby, activity, emergency and disinfection (with motion detectors) and UV (IT connected)
- one surveillance camera
- a coffee kitchen
General Design Considerations
Before we start to have a look at the different design line we should make clear that the colour scheme inside the station should be based on light and friendly colours to support long-term inhabitants feeling comfortable as soon as possible. It is a frequently appearing observation that Aquanauts are most nervous in their first three nights and start to feel comfortable after the fifth night. We also should keep in mind that we are surrounded by the blue of the ocean that starts to fade to grey after 20m depth while the amount of light reaching the bottom of the sea is drastically reduced. Therefore it is has no meaning to use a dark design and especially to use the colour BLUE inside the station. (still to be added: colour cards for different colour combinations like orange/white)
Strictly Functional Interior Design
There is another structure similar to an underwater station. It’s the International Space Station (ISS) designed strictly functional. In the end the ISS is a laboratory made for scientists only, although it accommodated the first space tourists already. What you do NOT find on the ISS is colour or any hint for comfortable habitability. Naturally every extra kilo to send to space costs a huge amount of money. On the other hand all of the astronauts spend weeks or even months inside the lab. For me it is a little surprising that the aspect of comfort seems that much insignificant. I would have thought of an equivalent of a two-persons lounge in warm colours beside a slightly larger window and a coffee-machine 🙂
We don’t have the problem of being forced to save weight (on the contrary: the heavier equipment, the less ballast). We do have to follow the safety and functionality issues, but still there is enough room for habitability. The undersea station might be designed for short-term stays in the first place, but long-term stays should be considered from the beginning. And especially in a claustrophobic environment like this the interior design plays a bigger role. Apart from that we still should keep in mind that we have to attract potential visitors who in most cases will not be scientists. Therefore a touch of artistic design is welcomed. Unfortunately that rules out the Strictly Functional Design (with emphasis on ‘strictly’).
For a glimpse of the ISS design watch this tour from 2016:
Futuristic Interior Design
In all attempts we should remember that the undersea station is not going to be part of a Disney World. Even if we have to attract potential visitors it does not mean that the interior design should be exaggerated or childish. If we talk about artistic design we actually mean artistic elements repeating on racks, furnitures and walls.
A futuristic design would reflect the opinion that people have of the future. Unfortunately this opinion is changing faster than ever. The way people imagined the future only 15 years ago started to differ already. Futuristic design also implements brand-new and clean equipments. If these equipments show the first signs of ageing the futuristic design looses its persuasiveness. As an example we could take the entrance of Aquarius lab that shows strong signs of corrosion that is inevitable in a salty and wet environment. Or take the design of Jule’s Undersea Lodge that was very futuristic once upon a time, but now looks a little nostalgic since the imagination of a possible future changed. Therefore I would recommend a healthy distance to this design line though futuristic elements might be considered.
Jules Verne or Steam Design
The Jules Verne, Victorian or Steam design might be a meaningful solution. We might characterize it with the usage of cast iron, rivets, copper and brass or at least the visual effect of it. Though the designs that first appeared in ‘20.000 Leagues under the Sea’ (1870) were meant as a statement of the future of long ago it is again fashionable as a Retro Future (see ‘Steam Punk’) and found its echo in several modern movies. Though the dominant colours are dark and depressing it would be appropriate for certain elements. This would not only be a tribute to an underwater visionary, but could also be used in parts of the surrounding underwater park like sculptures. I think this proposal is acceptable and we should consider to use the Steam design on several occasions in the station.
(to be added: Organic/ergonomic Design)
Please feel free to tell us your opinion to these ideas or propose another via reply function.