SPACEPLATES Underwater Habitat

With N55

Anne Romme and Ion Sørvin/N55 , in collaboration with Anne Bagger M.Sc. PhDDaniel Sang-Hoon Lee, M.Eng, Ph.D
Client: Lloyd Godson, marinbiolog og aquanaut
Prototype built by Newman Technical College i Port Macquarie, 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. In this case, a 6mm thin welded steel shell separates air from water and makes a small habitable underwater space.

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 is designed to be in equilibrium – the weight of the displaced water is balanced with the weight of the structure to make it float about 2 meters below water level. But for safety and technical reasons, it will be hanging from chains connected to the pier or pontoons, with technical equipment, such as a pump supplying fresh oxygen. 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, but the underwater house is not meant to be standing on its legs once it is placed at its site.
SPACEPLATES Underwater Habitat the system has only been built as a prototype. Teachers and students at the Newman Technical College in Port Macquarie, Australia to build a remarkable structure for a very small (crowd-funded) budget.