Go beneath the surface in this surreal hotel in the Maldives

The ocean floor is one of the last untouched wildernesses on Earth. There’s no better way to experience it than from the luxury surroundings of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s unique undersea residence.
There are few places on Earth that have an intimate relationship with the sea as the Maldives. A stunning new property at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island goes to the heart of this, providing an unrivaled experience to guests both above—and below the ocean. Welcome to The Muraka, the world’s first undersea residence.

On paper the project seems ridiculously ambitious: The Muraka (meaning “coral” in Dhivehi, the Maldivian language), has cost US$15 million to build, but one look shows it’s been worth every penny. This will not just be a room, but a luxury complex, with a master bedroom built on the seabed, completely surrounded by glass so guests are at one with the water and its creatures. Above the waves, there are further bedrooms, a dining area, and an entertaining space.

The visionary behind the project is Ahmed Saleem, the Maldivian businessman, and architect who designed the world’s first undersea restaurant back in 2005. That spectacular space, Ithaa—which means “mother-of-pearl”—debuted at his company’s resort, the Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa (since been rebranded to the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island), to worldwide acclaim.

Now Saleem has a new dream and, on a blisteringly hot Sunday morning in February in a welding yard in Singapore, he’s standing in it—the frame of what will become The Muraka. “When we opened Ithaa,  I immediately thought about this,” he says, “the last great thing before I retire. I knew I wanted to do a room. Dubai has underwater rooms but they’re just in a fish tank. This is in the sea.”

The Muraka is a symbol of the “nothing is impossible” attitude of Saleem’s company, Crown Resorts. “There’s amazing knowledge all over the world; it’s just a question of finding that knowledge,” he says. “I was the first architect in the Maldives and tourism was just starting after I graduated. I wanted to make the country aware of what architects can do.”

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Undersea King Guest Suite

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Undersea King Guest Suite lets you see the wildlife from every angle

The undersea residence provided many more challenges than Ithaa, even though he designed both and used the same marine engineer for the two projects.  “This is more sophisticated,” he says. “We need to take extra precautions for safety because people will be sleeping here. We need a constant supply of oxygen and we have two systems to ensure that. And we have to have an extra escape ladder. We need fire alarms, lighting, exhaust systems, electronic sensors. The biggest challenge was fitting the curtains in a way so as to not ruin the view.”

Saleem expects the residence to feel like an opulent home, set in its own private area of the 150-room property, connected to the resort by a 950-foot bridge. Equipped to the highest global standards, it will have a dedicated butler, “If you want lobster and champagne at three in the morning, we can do it,” says Saleem. Interiors by New York-based Japanese architect Yuji Yamazaki are inviting, with a soft deep-brown silk-blend carpet, deep-brown muted tones, and reflective surfaces to flood the space with light. News of the project will no doubt prompt others to copy him. “Everyone will try to do it,” he says, “but you need financial resources. One advantage we have: I am a trained professional. With outside consultants, it’s not as easy to make sound decisions.”

Mike Murphy, the project engineer, has the same boyish enthusiasm as Saleem. He worked on factories, roads, and bridges before building his first aquarium, in the  1980s in his native New Zealand. The residence, his second project with Saleem after Ithaa, is “definitely more complicated. The sleeping quarters need fire-rated doors and walls, alarms and emergency lighting. Plumbing and drainage are big considerations.  We will also have to cover the joints [between panels]  with acrylic strips to stop marine worms burrowing in.”

The undersea bathroom looks out onto the Indian Ocean

The undersea bathroom looks out into the Indian Ocean

Saleem had approached him 18 months earlier with the design and they bounced ideas back and forth. “It grew, became too heavy, then shrank,” he says. There were four or five different designs mooted before they found common ground. “With the experience I have, I thought it was easily done,” he says, and it speaks with extraordinary lucidity about the need for precise computations on structural strengths, load cases, deflection calculations of the arched glass and variability of water pressure when it’s sunk. “Once it’s down [under the water],” he says, “I check the inside for leaks, acrylic deflections, then I can relax. Full marks to Saleem and his team for the courage to do it.”

The sinking of the residence in the Maldives in March went very smoothly, four hours of careful hoisting, lowering, positioning and securing. It now sits some distance from the rest of the resort, a beacon at the end of the private concrete-and-wood driveway. Stefano Ruzza, the Italian-Swiss general manager of the resort, says, “This will be like your own private island. There will be jet skis and a boat at the back—you can take them anywhere. You won’t ever have to step onto the main island. If you want to eat at a restaurant, you can take  the boat over and dock right there and walk in.”

It’s an attractive sales pitch, the sense of a totally private getaway in what is already an idyllic property. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island splits its facilities between two islands—one shaped like an egg, and home to water and beach villas, a water-sports center, a spa, children’s club, and the majority of the resort’s 12 bars and restaurants. The other slender like an extended finger and popular with couples for its overwater villas and spa—connected by a 1,600-foot bridge. The property is large enough that there are jogging routes detailed on a map outside the gym.

Upper level outdoor bath tub

Catch the sunset from the upper-level outdoor bathtub

Currently, the walkway ends at a giant concrete platform, the floor for the overwater part of the residence, which will also have a full kitchen, an outdoor deck with private pool, a gym, and separate quarters for maids, butlers and security. Ruzza flicks on the torch on his phone to illuminate the 45-step spiral stairway to the underwater room and as he rounds the last curve a window appears with fish swimming past. The interior is bright, and the dark-brown hues of the furnishings, carpet, and cabinetry don’t reflect in the glass overhead, allowing the exterior to come through unfiltered. Above, through the curved sections of glass in the bedroom, the water gently shimmers up and down, side to side, the gentle play of the unbridled ocean. Lying on the bed, I can almost see my children swimming in the water overhead, waving down  to me. It is surreal fantasy come to life.

Beyond the bedroom in the lounge area, one giant section of curved glass, 180-degrees round, looks straight out into the water, a hypnotizing window out into the sea. One side of the underwater room opens onto a reef, some of which will be rehabilitated in the resort’s lagoon when the construction is completed, teeming with fish; the other side peers into the open sea, where sharks, turtles and manta rays will glide by. “This is my favorite part,” Ruzza says as he slides open a pocket door to the bathroom. The toilet, vanity counter and shower all have clear views straight out onto the reef. “I’d never want to leave the shower. It’s amazing,” he says. It certainly is—truly a dream come true.

The Muraka’s outdoor area

The Muraka’s outdoor area

This article first appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Centurion Magazine, published for international Centurion® Members from American Express®

Discover all there is to do above and below the water at ConradMaldives.com


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