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Al Mahara: Classy, Aquatic Restaurant

Posted by on Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Al Mahara Restaurant

Dubai’s kind of got a thing for stupidly ornate and over-the-top buildings, so much so that architects are always trying to outdo each other. That’s part of the mentality behind Al Mahara, an underwater themed restaurant. Nobody is really sure why they didn’t want to just go the extra mile and build it underwater; after all, they aren’t shying away from building a giant ice berg in the desert.

As I said, Al Mahara isn’t actually underwater, but every feature of the restaurant is supposed to replicate that feeling. With arcing, tunnel-like passageways, the building does follow the general architectural aesthetic that you’d expect. The main draw of the Al Mahara, though, is the enormous circular aquarium in the center of the restaurant.

Dubai Al Mahara Dining

Compared to other underwater themed restaurants, I would actually say that Al Mahara is the most impressive. At first glance, you’d think that Ithaa or Red Sea Star would be better because they are, actually, underwater. In reality, though, creating an underwater restaurant necessarily limits the building’s potential. You’re restricted by size and depth, and maintenance is extremely difficult and expensive.

By placing Al Mahara on land, the designers were more able to design a spectacular building and then add an aquarium in the middle of it. Completely submerged restaurants might be a bit more committed to the theme and just plain cool, but they aren’t quite as architecturally impressive. You’ve got to strike a balance, I suppose. The more extreme the location, the more limited you are by that location.

Al Mahara, which translates into “The Pearl,” is an absolutely beautiful and high class restaurant that transcends the only minor disadvantage of not being completely underwater. If given the opportunity to go to either Ithaa, the Red Sea Star, or Al Mahara, I think I’d go with Al Mahara.

Al Mahara

Budapest’s Gellert Spa Combines Class and Modernity

Posted by on Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Gellert Baths and Spa

Ever since Rome, public bath houses have been a popular means of promoting public health. While public bath houses haven’t caught on everywhere, they are certainly a unique form of cultural expression for a city. Nowadays, they can be found all over the world, especially near the Mediterranean and eastern China.

The city of Budapest is making full use of public houses, and for good reason – Budapest has more geothermal springs (80 in all) than any other large city in the world. Failing to utilizing such prime geothermal real estate would be a spectacular waste.

Of the various public baths dotting the city of Budapest, the Gellert Baths and Spa is perhaps the most extravagant and lavish. The décor is absolutely spectacular, featuring original pieces of Art Nouveau architecture, stained glass windows, and of course enough sculptures to make any ancient Roman bather feel right at home.

Gellert Bath Hall

Not every feature of the spa is focused on making things feel classic and old fashioned. Gellert Baths roughly translates into “Disco Bath,” and the spa attempts to live up to that flashy title. It features thermal pools, artificial wave generators, massage, mud packing, and full spa services. I have yet to spot a disco ball in any of the pictures, though.

Whether the style is classic or modern, the actual bathing experience is what matters the most, and that is sure not to disappoint. The natural spring water filling the pools contains magnesium, calcium, sulphate-chloride, hydrogen-carbonate , fluoride ions, and sodium. The owners of the bath house claim that these chemicals help to cure a number of ailments, including arthritis and blood circulation problems.

Overall, the Gellert Bath is very different from a typical American swimming pool. It provides a dramatically different experience. It’s truly unfortunate that these types of bath houses never caught on in America.

Gellert Baths and Spa

Off the Deep End at the World’s Deepest Swimming Pool

Posted by on Saturday, December 31st, 2011

World's deepest pool

The world’s largest pools have been thoroughly covered on this blog, but what about the world’s deepest pool? That’s gotta count for something too, right?

That award goes to Nemo 33, located in Brussels, Belgium. Plummeting to a murky 34.5 meters (that’s 113 ft. for us Americans across the pond), you wouldn’t try to touch the bottom of that pool with anything less than a full set of scuba gear.

In fact, that is precisely why Nemo 33 exists. It’s less about lounging poolside, and much more about strapping on your flippers and practicing some underwater exploration.The pool even has a few underwater cubbyholes to simulate aquatic caves.

Nemo 33 Swimming Pool

While 34.5 meters might not seem terribly deep, especially when you compare it to the absurd lengths of the world’s longest pool, it’s actually a very impressive depth. A standard scuba license won’t let you go down that far, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.

The 2.5 million liters of natural spring water filling the pool are kept at a comfortable 30 C (86 F), so divers can stay down for longer periods without much discomfort.

One of the most interesting features is the windows spaced at various depths of the pool, allowing onlookers to gaze at the divers as they descend to the bottom of the pool.

Of the three world recording holding pools reviewed over the past couple of days, Nemo 33 is undoubtedly the most useful. Nemo 33 doesn’t strike me as the type of pool that exists solely to break record and attract tourists. The depth is simply a byproduct of its purpose: to train divers in a controlled and safe environment.

Japan Holds World’s Largest Indoor Pool

Posted by on Friday, December 30th, 2011

World's Largest Indoor Pool

Yesterday, I covered the world’s longest outdoor swimming pool. Coincidentally, it also holds the record for being the world’s most redundant swimming pool. Today, we’ll take a look at the world’s biggest indoor swimming pool, which is located in Japan.

We can find the pool in Miyazaki, Japan (the city, not the famous movie director), as part of the Phoenix Seagaia Resort. This massive, 300 x 100 x 38 meter resort is roughly pill shaped, with an enormous retractable roof.

Much like oversized outdoor swimming pool, this indoor swimming pool is also a tad redundant, as it is a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. But, of course, it’s located in Japan, where everything is a short walk from the ocean. This makes it a bit silly, but this pool has some advantages over the San Alfonso del Mar pool.

Seagaia Ocean Dome

The swimming area is heated to a comfy 30 C (86 F), while the water is kept at 28 C (82 F). The advantage there is quite obvious. No matter how frigid or rainy it gets outside, they can just close the roof, crank up the heat, and swimmers can enjoy a comfortable dip in the pool.

The interior roof of the structure is painted to resemble beautiful blue sky, so the closed water park doesn’t feel quite so oppressive. To be honest, it actually looks quite sunny in there, despite the fact that it’s artificially lit.

World's Largest Indoor Swimming Pool

And hey, just for fun, the designers added a volcano inside of the park that erupts every 15 minutes. ‘Cause why not? The volcano area is equipped with a few water park-esque splash pools for the young’uns.

All in all, the Japanese world record holding pool is notably more interesting and useful than its Chilean counterpart. Because the whole thing is enclosed, it’s still actually useful in the winter. It seems like the designers actually wanted to build a worthwhile attraction, rather than building the world’s longest pool just so that they’d have bragging rights. After all, if you’re going to build a pool a couple of feet from the Pacific Ocean, you’ve really got to have a selling point that makes your pool seem more tempting than the great blue sea.

World’s Longest Swimming Pool Awesome, Redundant

Posted by on Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

San Alfonso Del Mar Swimming Pool

How many laps can you swim? I’ll admit that swimming definitely isn’t my strong suit. I can run a few miles, but if I try to swim a few laps around a pool it’ll just lead to burping up chlorine all day.

If you can complete a couple of laps, then I tip my swimming cap to you. If you’re the type of person who takes to water like a fish, then I truly envy you. Perhaps you’re looking for a swimming pool up to your standards.

World's Longest Swimming Pool

For a truly Olympian swimming pool challenge, head on down to the San Alfonso del Mar resort in Chile. It’s only got the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool. At a staggering 1,013 meter length, this swimming pool isn’t for the weak of heart. At that size, you have to wonder if it isn’t better suited in the “manmade lake” category rather than the “swimming pool” category. But hey, the Guinness Book of World Records calls it the world’s longest swimming pool, so who am I to argue?

The pool is definitely neat, don’t get me wrong. Something of that size is automatically a tourist attraction. As cool as it is, though, it’s really pretty bizarre that it even exists at all. Why’s that? Well, it’s only about a stone’s throw from the ocean. It’s not like good swimming spots are scarce or anything.

One of the weirdest things about the pool is that it sucks in water from the ocean, so despite being a pool, it’s actually filled with salt water. Sure, it’s purified and clear, but you’re still basically swimming in sea water. If you want to swim in a giant body of salt water, why not just walk the extra 20 feet and take a dip in the ocean?

Huge Swimming Pool

The pool is a bit absurd – approximately in the same vein as a solar-powered light bulb (useful but odd), but the approach of using salt water from the ocean to fill the pool was an excellent choice. A sophisticated system of pumps keeps the pool filled with fresh and clean water, all while leaving the nearby aquatic ecosystem relatively unharmed.

It’s easy to appreciate the lengths that the designers went to in order to keep a swimming pool of that size relatively sustainable and efficient, but at the same time it’s easy to question the redundancy of building a giant swimming pool right next to the ocean.

Infinity Pool Offers Refreshing, Terrifying Dip

Posted by on Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Infinity Edge Swimming Pool

Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands contains what may quite possibly be the most terrifying swimming pool on earth. Placed near the ledge of a 55 story building, the edgeless pool makes it seems as though swimmers are on a one-way course over the edge of sky scraper. I think the only way that they could possibly make it more frightening is if they threw a few sharks in the pool.

If you can get past the primal terror that the swimming pool provokes, then you might actually be able to enjoy the scenery. After all, the only other way that you’re going to get a view that nice while swimming is if you inflate a kiddy pool next to your hotel room window.

Marina Bay Sand Infinity Pool

More than likely, though, the coolness factor will completely outweigh the fear factor, and swimming at the Infinity Pool will be an unforgettable experience – for all the good reasons. The modern, symmetrical design of the pool and the lounge chairs fit well with the urban view. A handful of palm trees add just the right amount of green to an otherwise overwhelmingly synthetic aesthetic.

Infinity Pool Swimming Pool

Swimmers ballsy enough to take a dip will be able to confront the pool’s optical illusion by swimming to the precipice. It’s safe, basically. The edge is a wall that just doesn’t quite reach the surface of the water. The water from the pool spills over the edge ever-so-slightly, where it collects in a ditch-like channel, preventing pool water and clumsy tourists from tumbling several hundred feet to the pavement below. Beyond that, a railing provides an extra safety measure.

In the Infinity swimming pool, the only thing to fear is fear itself. Well, that and the risk of drowning, I suppose.

Natural Swimming Pools Turn Backyard Pools Green

Posted by on Monday, December 26th, 2011

Natural Swimming Pool

If you come up to someone and ask them if they’d like to have a pool in their backyard, or lush, verdant fountain, just about everybody would answer “yes.” Who would turn down something like that? Aquatic landscaping improves the look of just about any home, because people across all culture are naturally drawn to water.

The most popular aquatic landscaping feature is the pool, a symbol of wealth and beauty. Another common backyard feature is the fountain or the pond, which attempts to capture verdant prosperity. While each of these aquatic landscape features have a common element, water, they are each extremely different in style. Pools are sterile, clear, and bright blue. Fountains and ponds, by contrast, are typically green, murky, and relatively unclean.

The stark differences between pools and ponds make it seem nearly impossible to combine the two. How can you make a backyard pond that supports aquatic life, yet is still clean enough for your kids to swim in?

The answer is the natural swimming pool, an organic alternative to concrete and chlorine. Natural swimming pools have been growing in Europe for some time, and they are just beginning to really take hold in the U.S. Rather than relying on buckets of chemicals to purify the water, natural swimming pools use aquatic plants, haydite rocks, and ultraviolet filters to remove bacteria from the water. Working together, these three elements clean water enough to meet health standards.

Natural Organic Pools

The environmental advantage here is quite obvious, as it requires that we dump fewer chemicals in our backyards. It also has a rather unique aesthetic advantage, as it transforms pools into murky green, pond-like swimming pools that appear completely natural and are stunningly beautiful. When was the last chance you got to go swimming next to some lily pads?

Despite the numerous advantages, these types of pools aren’t for everyone. They require more maintenance than their sterile counterparts, and you have to be OK with swimming in water that isn’t crystal clear. If you can get past those hang-ups, though, natural pools are a beautiful and modern upgrade to the traditional swimming pool.

Natural Pools

Water Lily to Inspire Dutch Apartment Complex

Posted by on Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Leeuwarden Housing Plan

Architects often use nature as a source of inspiration for buildings. After all, Mother Nature is a sort of architect in her own unique way, building bridges out of sand, towers out of trees, and subterranean basements. In addition to the fact that many natural objects are good sources of inspiration from a logistics standpoint, nature also provides an endless supply of beautiful shapes and colors for manmade buildings.

The design teams OODA and OOIIO are looking to water lilies for their Leeuwarden housing plan. Like the water lily itself, the Leeuwarden complex needs to create a bridge between land and water. To that end, these architects will build a set of apartment buildings along the river, incorporating the natural flowing water into the design.

Netherlands Leeuwarden Housing Plan

In this layout, boats will replace sidewalks and roads, thereby creating a living area that is more harmonious with nature. Each apartment building will, in effect, be like a floating lily pad, with inhabitants living on miniature islands surrounded by shallow water.

While creating island-like housing might seem inconvenient to many, it is actually quite logical from the viewpoint of a native Dutchman. Rising sea levels are slowly swallowing the low-altitude country, forcing many architects to find alternatives that incorporate land and water in unorthodox ways.

Netherlands Leeuwarden Design

Rather than fighting against the growing water levels, architects in the Netherlands are acknowledging the inevitability of water and are working with nature, rather than against it. The Leeuwarden design is just one of several Dutch architectural creations that follow this philosophy.

Because so many of these Dutch buildings focus on style and utility rather than style, many floating buildings and aquatic structures are fairly plain. The Leeuwarden complex, however, incorporates artistic flourishes and true style into the design. If you need to invent a basic engine before you can build a Ferrari, then the Leeuwarden complex is one step closer towards realizing the high class and artistic potential of aquatic architecture.

Aquatic Housing Plan Design

Floating Sea Tree is Vertical Hangout for Wildlife

Posted by on Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Waterstudio.nl Sea Tree

Including environmentally conscious features as part of an architectural design is both popular and responsible. Central Park is a great example of the potential benefits. The city of New York could make billions of dollars by selling the real estate to corporations looking to build skyscrapers. But if Central Park was destroyed, then New Yorkers would lose the one place in the city where they can escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The more we build, the more we displace the local flora and fauna. Including considerations for nature can lead to a more environmentally friendly design, as well as improving the morale of nearby people. While ignoring plant life might be more cost effective, improving the happiness of citizens is always a worthwhile goal.

Underwater Floating Habitat

Waterstudio.nl, a popular aquatic architecture firm, has designed the Sea Tree, a floating safe haven intended specifically for plants and animals. The design features dozens of layers, both above and below water, which create nesting grounds for birds and anchoring points for plants. Given enough time to grow, the Sea Tree will eventually resemble a sort of hanging garden, with branches and vines hanging from the different levels.

Beneath the surface of the water, the view is equally as lush and verdant. Underwater layers create homes for fish and aquatic plant life. From its lowest to its highest point, the Sea Tree is devoted entirely to promoting wildlife. And with its unique aquatic design, it accommodates the local wildlife of any location. It would be just as useful off the coast of New York as it would be in Tokyo harbor or the Thames River.

Waterstudio.nl Floating Sea Tree

The Sea Tree represents a new and unique trend in architecture, not because it is environmentally conscious, but because it defies the traditional purpose of architecture. Most buildings exist for human inhabitants. Designing buildings for birds, plants, and fish opens up a new realm of architecture.

Floating Power Plants Cheaply Generate Energy

Posted by on Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Marine Solar Cells

The oceans of the world are a phenomenal source of resources. The seas offer a tremendous amount of food, means of easy and fast transportation, and entertainment. Another important resource that we derive from the ocean is power. Starting with watermills, mankind has been harvesting the energy of water for thousands of years. Technology has advanced quite a bit since the first water wheel, allowing engineers to collect even more energy from the ocean.

We’ve already taken a look at floating desalination plants, which specialize in creating cheap drinking water for trouble areas as quickly and efficiently as possible. The floating design of the desalination plants inherently has several advantages. They are easy to deploy, portable, and can work just about anywhere on earth. There is no need to grapple with local zoning laws when you can just haul the desalination plants several miles off the coast and switch them on.

Phil Pauley Marine Solar Cells

Phil Pauley’s new power plant design operates on many of the same principles. His Marine Solar Cells float on the surface of the water. Rather than create clean drinking water, however, these cells generate green power in two distinct ways.

First, the floating orb-like power generators collect energy through the motions of the waves, transforming kinetic energy into stored electricity. Second, the surfaces of the orbs are solar panels, collecting energy from the sun. These solar panels should be up to 20% more effective than their terrestrial counterparts because the natural reflective surface of the ocean increases the amount of light that the orbs can capture.

Floating Power Plants

These Marine Solar Cells are convenient in so many ways that it is hard not to praise the design. They’re relatively cheap, green, easy to set up, and can be deployed anywhere on earth to give power wherever it is needed most. These power cells represent a trend in aquatic architecture that is becoming increasingly apparent with every new aquatic convention: the vast, unused space of the ocean is a resource that we are just beginning to utilize. Unowned, free, and relatively accessible, the surface of the ocean is sure to be the home of many new architectural projects.