European and US backers “in talks” to develop Dubai underwater tennis stadium

Underwater-Tennis-2

Words by Shane McGinley, Arabian Business

A Polish architect who has proposed developing an underwater tennis stadium off the coast of Dubai is in talks with potential backers in Europe and the US to help make the project a reality, he told Arabian Business.

In April, Krzysztof Kotala, who has a Master of Science in Architecture from Kraków Polytechnic and owns the 8+8 Concept Studio in Warsaw, unveiled initial designs for the proposed Underwater Dubai Tennis Center and while he admitted he had yet to source potential investors to launch the project the news quickly went viral and was featured in media articles around the world.

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Kotala’s designs involve seven arenas, with a carbon-glass glazed dome above the court and located in the seabed within a reef off the coast of Dubai, near the famous Burj al Arab hotel.

“There is not an investor but I would like to get interest as I think it is a good idea,” he told Arabian Business in April, however he has now revealed that the “project is going forward” as he has been in talks with companies in Europe and the US “which are interested in the building process.”

“This will be something original. This should be somewhere where there is the tradition of tennis. Dubai is perfect for this idea,” Kotala added, referring to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which has been staged in the emirate since 1993.

Patric Douglas, CEO of LA-based Reef Worlds, who is currently working on a number of underwater projects in the Gulf and further afield, was rather dismissive of the likelihood of the tennis stadium ever becoming a reality.

“We don’t think it’ll be built but it is remarkable it is being suggested and it is not out of the realms of possibility,” he said. “There are two types of projects here: total pie-on-the-sky, where you have airships and swimming pools with sharks in them, or there is stuff like this that could be done.”

Douglas believed the reason some proposals were mothballed in previous years was because the technology at the time meant they were not commercially viable. However, he claimed that advances in acrylics has meant these projects are now more plausible.

Like most things nowadays, China has led the way. The Hengqin Ocean Kingdom near Macao opened in March 2014 and was confirmed as world’s largest aquarium by Guinness World Records. The attraction also boasts the largest underwater viewing dome, largest aquarium tank, largest aquarium window and largest acrylic panel.

“We are seeing a lot of these coming to the table and people dismiss them that they’ll never happen but the Chinese have made huge advances to create acrylic to scale. The ability to hold back water now with acrylic has made leaps and bounds. It is one of the major advances that has happened,” he claimed.

“None of this would have been possible ten years ago, even six years ago. Sonic welding is the one true amazing advance in acrylics, the ability to knit big sheets of acrylic seamlessly so you don’t see the seams is the ‘ah ha’ moment and allows us to put the world underwater and under pressure. You don’t know where the glasses connect until you run your fingers along it. We have come a long way.”

However, Sarah Fray, director of engineering and technical services at the Institution of Structural Engineers in London, said underwater projects will always be potentially problematic due to the constraints of building any structure underwater.

Doing anything underwater is hugely challenging. The argument that acrylic will make this easier is debateable,” she told Arabian Business. “The fundamentals are having people underwater, how you keep them watertight and how you cope with the unexpected. I am thinking of minor earth tremors, which you do have in the region.”

Fray said developers have two options when it comes to construction: they can push the water back and then flood the site, similar to how Dubai Marina was developed, or built the structure on land, pull it out to sea, sink it and then anchor it to the seabed.

“There is also a scale issue. The tennis arena would be a huge structure to construct and then bring out and sink… You are taking about enormous investment, even if you are constructing on land and bringing it out to sea. This is high cost construction as once you are in a marine environment you also have to match corrosion… So you need high quality construction and high accuracy levels.

“It also has to be deep enough to avoid sea traffic, and there is a lot of sea traffic in the Gulf area… What if a boat might not need to drop its anchor in an emergency? Obviously you do not want a heavy boats anchor landing on your glass roof of an underwater structure. The easiest place is to do it within the tidal range, but the amount of sea coverage would then be quite low.

“I think in general terms [underwater project] by nature are very expensive. But there is a thought that anything is possible if you have the right money,” Fray concluded.

Last month, plans for an underwater hotel in Dubai were thrown into doubt following a management shake-up by its principal investor. Polish developer Deep Ocean Technology first unveiled plans for the Water Discus Hotel in 2012 after it won the backing of Dubai’s Drydocks World, a subsdiary of conglomerate Dubai World.

The hotel, which would comprise two saucer-shaped structures, one above the water and one underneath, was expected to cost around €40 million to build.

But it has faced two significant setbacks. Last year Swiss firm Big Invest, a key financial backer who had signed a deal with Drydocks World to help finance the project, withdrew its support, according to press reports at the time.

In March, Drydocks chairman Khamis Buamim, who had overseen the previous agreement with Deep Ocean Technology, resigned and was subsequently replaced by Abdulrahman Al Saleh, director-general of Dubai’s department of finance.

Deep Ocean Technology said this week that plans for the hotel had stalled since.

Project and research manager Krzysztof Koniuszaniec told Arabian Business: “Our company had held talks and negotiations on the implementation of the project in Dubai with the president of Dubai Drydocks World for a period of three years.

“At that time, we conducted a full research project co-funded by the European Union.

“The talks were suspended in Dubai due to changes in the board of Drydocks World, but we hope to return to talks in the near future.”

He said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, had given indications during his visit to Poland in June that plans for the underwater hotel should be resurrected.

“The design would make the hotel very popular among tourists,” Deep Ocean Technology’s co-founder Lech Rowinski told The National.

“However, we are still looking for an investor to build it.”

Koniuszaniec said the plans had all the relevant safety and environmental approvals: “We have the technical documentation for Water Discus, approved by the international marine classification society.

“Furthermore, we are in possession of the full safety analysis and research results in the field of strength, its impact on the environment and many other results that enable us to build Water Discus virtually any location in the world, of course, are preceded by an environmental analysis.”

He added that, in the meantime, the company was pressing ahead with plans to open the underwater hotel elsewhere in the world.

“It should be noted that we are also holding talks on the construction of a Water Discus in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Oman, Maldives, Australia, the Caribbean and Poland and we hope this year to announce plans to build the first Water Discus in one of these locations.”

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