SPACEPLATES Underwater habitat
Ion Sørvin/N55 and Anne Romme, in collaboration with Anne Bagger M.Sc. PhD, Daniel Sang-Hoon Lee, M.Eng, Ph.D
Commissioned by Lloyd Godson, marine biologist and aquanaut
Sydney, Australia

The colonization of outer space is currently subject to much attention and large investments, private and public, are made in the incentive to “get there first”. However, other unexplored potentials much closer to us deserve our attention. Imagine if we could find sustainable ways of inhabiting the space of the oceans, the sea and the harbors, making good conditions of life for more people.
Lloyd Godson approached us with the desire to make an underwater habitat to continue his explorations of the underwater world. Determined to “push the boundaries of future development in the technologies critical to undersea exploration and to inspire the next generation of scientists and adventurers in the process” the SPACEPLATES Building System was an obvious choice.
The system is based on pure plate structures, an elegant way of creating doubly-curved forms. Its structural members – thin plates – are capable of transmitting both tension and compression forces. Unlike in the lattice structures that are being used in much contemporary architecture, in pure plate structure the structural system and the cladding is one and the same thing. As a result, the climate barrier can be fully integrated into the structural system, and detailing kept at a minimum. Just as in the elegant shell of the sea urchin, pure plate structures are characterized by their relationship between great strength, a thin shell and a relatively large enclosed space.
The SPACEPLATES Building System has as its programmatic ambition to enable people to build structures for themselves. It is of concern to the authors that architecture as a discipline and the building process in particular is increasingly dependent on large-scale economic capacity and advanced technology. While much technology is becoming accessible to a large number of people and is put to use in their everyday life, the act of building a structure for living in is for a number of reasons becoming an increasingly inaccessible privilege for most. In the case of the SPACEPLATES Underwater Habitat the system has allowed Lloyd Godson and his team of students and teachers of Newman Technical College in Port Macquarie, Australia to build a remarkable structure for a very small (crowd-funded) budget.
The habitat is a welded steel structure of 6mm thickness with acrylic windows of 15 mm thickness. In the lower part of the habitat concrete ballast is cast into the structure and 10 mm shear studs are welded onto the inner surfaces of the shell, creating a structural coherence between steel wall and concrete.
The habitat is accessed from below through an entrance tube. It has a wooden floor and the total floor area (not including the tube area) is 6.74 m2. The height of the habitat is 2.96 m and the total volume is 12.6 m3.
The habitat will be submerged in Sydney Harbor at the Australian Maritime Museum. It will be hanging from chains connected to the pier or pontoons. Legs ensure that in case of an accident where the anchoring fails and the habitat could fall to the bottom of the sea, the entrance will not be covered.
The structural documentation report by Anne Bagger and Daniel Sang-Hoon Lee can be downloaded here: Underwater Habitat Structural documentation


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