By Carolynne Dear for Mid-levels magazine
In an area of the world strewn with luxe residences and picture perfect beaches, the Maldives is a tough location in which to create wow factor.
But Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is this month opening the doors on what it believes is the world’s first undersea residence.
The James Bond-worthy two-storey villa – named Muraka, meaning ‘coral’ in the local patois – hit the seabed earlier this year following a complex building project. Lead engineer Mike Murphy of New Zealand-based MJ Murphy Ltd was approached in 2017 to manage the construction, having previously supervised on Ithaa, the hotel’s undersea restaurant. He admits Muraka was a once-in-a-lifetime brief.
The seriously luxurious residence is a two-level structure for up to nine guests, with space above sea-level and an undersea suite five metres below sea level. The undersea area includes a king size bedroom, living area and bathroom, with a spiral staircase leading to a further living room. Like Ithaa, the space is encased in an acrylic dome with 180-degree ocean views.
Upstairs, above sea-level, there’s a twin-size bedroom, bathroom, powder room, gym, butler’s quarters, private security quarters, integrated living room, kitchen, bar and a dining area that leads onto a sunset-facing deck. A relaxation deck and infinity pool on the opposite side enjoy sun-rise.
No stranger to submerged structures, Murphy has worked on watery projects around the world, including Guangzhou Ocean World in China, Sentosa Underworld Aquarium in Singapore, the Science Centre in Kuala Lumpur, plus a host of other aquariums, underwater worlds, penguin pools and sea-lion enclosures. But he admits Muraka was a particularly exciting project to be involved with.
“Being a world-first is very motivating,” he tells me from Rangali Island, where he was in the final stages of the project at the time of our interview. “The 600 tonnes of submerged residential space included components such as plumbing, as well as a lift connecting the undersea and oversea sections. There is nothing like this in the world currently.”
It is the latest ‘first’ in a series of inaugural launches for the resort – Conrad Maldives Rangali Island was the original international hotel brand to enter the Maldivian market 20 years ago, and it opened the world’s first undersea restaurant, Ithaa, 13 years ago.
The resort is located in one of the Maldives’ best diving spots and Muraka is designed to blend in with its marine environment, giving guests unparalleled views of the Indian Ocean.
All aspects were carefully planned, with two marine biologists hired to minimise any environmental impact during construction. At-risk coral colonies were relocated from the construction site and stored 150m away from where the building work was taking place. They were relocated back to the residence reef once construction was complete. Since the submersion of the villa, the underwater marine life has begun to call the new arrival home, with anemones and urchins attaching themselves to the structure.
The residence was first assembled on a barge in Singapore and with the assistance of two tugs, it was pushed-pulled on a four-hour journey to the wharf. It was then loaded onto a jumbo crane ship and shipped to Rangali Island. Submersion had to coincide with dry season, which runs from November to April, and was scheduled for February this year.
“For a complex project like this, sinking is the most critical point,” says Murphy. “The ship’s captain was essentially ‘blind’, so clear communication with the divers was paramount. I’m the first to say I’m completely confident that we are the leading experts in this field, but even I admit to losing a bit of sleep at this point. When Muraka was finally sunk, everyone was happy, the owners were happy, the engineers were happy, so we were all relieved.”
Just how the first guests will sleep remains to be seen. Perhaps all that marine activity will keep them glued to the glass all night, perhaps it will lull them into a deep slumber.
“Muraka encourages guests to to explore the Maldives from an entirely new perspective,” says chief architect and designer Ahmed Saleem. “Alongside Ithaa, we’re very pleased to remain at the forefront of cutting-edge design, technology and architecture.” conradmaldives.com