The Maldives’ answer to rising sea levels
Posted: 09 August 2018
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Throughout history, engineers have faced off the challenges of climate change, balancing function with user experience. Few have been more elegantly combined than the world first underwater hotel on Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
After success with two other world first underwater projects, Jacksons, a New Zealand Engineering HVAC Solutions consultancy, was approached to be a part of this US$15 million two-story hotel villa, the lower part of which will sit 16.4 feet below the surface of the Indian Ocean.
Featuring a gym, a bar, an infinity pool, butler’s and security quarters, an ocean-facing bathtub and most importantly an underwater bedroom floor with unparalleled views from the ocean floor. Connected to the upper level by a spiral staircase, the undersea suite is made up of a king-size bedroom with a 180-degree overhead window offering views of the coral reef through to the deep ocean, a lounge also with a panoramic view of the surrounding coral reef and bathroom with fully glazed outlook onto the reef.
Lance Jimmieson from Jacksons was charged with designing the project’s mechanical services, working on the air conditioning, ventilation, controls, hydraulics, electrical and lighting works. For the past 18 months, Lance has been flying back and forth to Singapore and the Maldives, creating designs that make sure the suite achieves a first-class internal environment, is safe to occupy and remains at an acceptable temperature – not easy when the room sits in 28-30°C seawater.
Lance isn’t the only Kiwi working on the underwater bedroom. The facility’s owner and chief architect Ahmed Saleem trained in NZ before returning to the Maldives, and uses a bunch of top Kiwi professionals, including overall designer Mike Murphy, Origin Fire for fire engineering, Aircool Refrigeration for mechanical installation, Plumbuilt for hydraulics and Direct Control for electrical and controls work.
Lance commented, “We are proud to say that of the main air conditioning and ventilation equipment, including the chillers and air handling equipment were specifically designed and built in New Zealand for this project. The specially designed sea water cooled chillers were designed and built by experts CIR Ltd in Auckland.”
From a design angle, the project posed a number of unique challenges, with the obvious consideration being that the facility sits below the surface of the sea in full sun, surrounded by 28°C – 30°C seawater.
Calculating the overall cooling load required a return to first principles engineering and fundamental research to estimate the resultant solar radiation through sea water, followed by curved acrylic. The depth below the surface varies with tidal movement and a range of weather conditions such as wind, affect the surface reflectance of the sea. Clarity of the water also plays its part in the resultant solar penetration.
More subtle elements include local conditions where sea water temperatures can rise over shallow reefs, with water currents bringing in the warmer water when least needed! This results in considerably higher sea temperatures than expected at times.
Add to that the thermal heat transmission gains through an essentially steel and acrylic structure and the requirement to constantly dehumidify the warm, humid outside air, to mitigate the risk of internal condensation, and the resultant loads can be surprisingly high.
To combat the heat loads, specially designed sea water cooled chillers were chosen, complete with de-superheaters to create a source of hot water for reheat following dehumidification. Sea water filtration is another specialist area requiring expert advice and experience.
Draft free air distribution and near silent operation of the air conditioning systems is of paramount concern to achieve the first-class internal conditions demanded by the well-healed clientele. Adaptive thermal comfort routines are built into the sophisticated control system, which also monitors critical indoor environment parameters to ensure safety of the guests.
Plant selections had to account for operation under light loading (i.e. night use), requiring the plant to be designed to handle a very wide range of duties without cycling off. EC variable speed fans were used to allow airflow rates to follow the load profiles and once the plant is commissioned, it is intended to operate 24/7 for its entire life.
Practical issues such as noise, weight, corrosion protection etc. all had to be given special consideration to cope with the rather coastal location and high-end nature of the facility. Wider considerations of the user experience also included the performance of the facility at night, where reflectance of internal light is of critical importance, as it can limit the view of the sea life if not properly designed and commissioned. Potential reflection of light in the curved acrylic windows also had to be addressed for the complete fit-out, designed by top New York based architect Yuji Yamazaki.
Lighting, both internal to the facilities and reef lighting also received special consideration, with the ability to change the mood of the night experience.
The project is currently full-steam ahead, due to be completed in time for a grand opening in November 2018.
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