Sea Change You Can See: A Brief History of Underwater Architecture

Matt Shaw Matt Shaw

Why is post-apocalyptic architectural photography so powerful? Is it because we subconsciously hate architecture, like Freudian self-loathing artists? Or is it because the apocalypse seems so imminent, for so many reasons? Probably a bit of both, but we are always reconsidering architecture’s role in both our world and the speculative world of post-apocalypse. If you’re still skeptical, the harshness of this winter is just one reminder of the power and unpredictability of nature.

Precipitations by Pablo Genoves

Apocalypse in Art by Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Francois Ronsiaux’s ‘United Land’ series depicts architectural landmarks submerged in water and ice. Ronsiaux imagines a post-apocalyptic world and humankind’s reaction to this change in environment. His statement oddly calls these new worlds “‘utopic underwater landscapes that are definitively unaffected by outside influences other than marine life.”

Image courtesy Francois Ronsiaux

Image courtesy Francois Ronsiaux

Submerged,” the fourth title from Uppercut Games, similarly plays on the underwater world for the sublime environment in its 2011 game. While chasing enemies around in this shooting game, you will come across beautiful architecture in various states of decay.


With sea levels set to rise, the underwater has become a topic of discussion that architects must address. From DIY to architect-designed, there are many fantastic possibilities for a post-sea-change architecture. But not all underwater architecture has to be for disaster purposes. Dubai is looking to build an underwater hotel, complete with tsunami-proof legs. In Japan, there is a serious-ish proposal to make an underwater city 1000 feet under the sea. The best part is that the city would be encapsulated in a huge glass orb. Not apocalyptic, but scary.

Dubai’s underwater hotel.

Japanese proposal for underwater city.

Not all underwater architecture is just fantasy. The floating “Manta” hotel room lets you sleep half-submerged. Of course, it is just off the coast of Tanzania’s Pemba Island, which makes it more of a paradise than an aquatic hellscape. There is even an underwater exhibition in a shipwreck, the most common (accidentally) underwater structures. However, most underwater architecture exists mainly for fish. There is a suburban house under the sea, like a real-life, full-scale fishbowl. In other places, disused subway cars make artificial reefs for all kinds of marine life, in a pile of metal boxes on the ocean floor.

© The Manta Limited / Genberg Art UW Ltd

© The Manta Limited / Genberg Art UW Ltd

“Manta” Hotel Room

Andreas Franke’s underwater exhibition.

Urban Reef by Jason Decaires Taylor

© stephen mallon

© stephen mallon

Subway cars on the way down.

If you are looking for an underwater adventure, you can make the trip to China’s new Atlantis, Lion City (Shi Cheng in Mandarin), an underwater city that was created when Thousand Island Lake was made. The ancient city is about 80 feet to 120 feet under the sea, but it has been preserved well. Arches decorative sculptures, and wooden beams date back to the Dong Han period (25 – 200AD). It is now open for tourist scuba adventures. However, maybe it is best to just hop on Noah’s Ark, which is being built in Kentucky right now.

Lion City.

Noah’s Ark in Kentucky.

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