Ithaa: An Undersea Restaurant

    Ithaa: An Undersea Restaurant

    Mariya Rasheeda scans through a beautiful structure that sits beneath the waves and provides an exclusive dining experience with a 270–degree panoramic underwater view to the diners.

    Many people dream about building a house on the bank of river, a few think about having an underwater ride to see the ocean world, whereas others imagine living an aquatic life. All these dreams and thoughts were visualized by Mr. Ahmed Saleem, one of the owners of Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa and his visions took form in April 2005, in a shape of “Ithaa: An undersea restaurant at the Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa, in Rangali, Maldives.

    In the Maldivian language of Divehi, “ithaa” means “pearl” and the restaurant Ithaa sits like a pearl beneath the waves, between the lagoon and a vibrant coral reef. The innovative restaurant is the first of its kind in the world. It is part of a US $25 million re-build of Rangalifinolhu Island, one of the twin islands that make up Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa. This re-build includes the construction of 79 of the most luxurious beach villas in the country as well as the Spa Village. A self-contained, over-water ‘resort-within-a-resort, the Spa Villaga consist of a spa, a restaurant and 21 villas.

    A design marvel

    Ithaa: An Undersea Restaurant
    The restaurant was designed and constructed by M J Murphy Ltd, a design consultancy based in New Zealand. Mike Murphy, an aquarium technology specialist, worked with Mr Saleem on the entire structural design, adding his expertise on underwater structures and his passion for marine life.

    Ithaa is reached by a wooden walkway from the nearby over-water Sunset Grill Restaurant. Diners begin their meal with drinks on a specially constructed deck over the ocean and then descend to the restaurant via a spiral staircase where the à la carte menu is served. Seating only 14 people, Ithaa offers one of the most intimate and exclusive dining experiences in the world.

    Ithaa sits five meters below the waves of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by a vibrant coral reef and encased in clear acrylic, offering diners 270-degrees of panoramic underwater views. The intimate, well designed space gives the diner a feeling of being completely at one with the underwater world while submerged beneath the surface of the ocean. Set with the resort’s renowned house reef on one side, and a clear lagoon on the other, diners enjoy their meal within Ithaa’s translucent shell as the underwater drama unfolds on all sides. In fact, the management is planting a coral garden on the reef to add to the spectacular views of the rays, sharks and many colorful fish that live around the reef near the restaurant.

    A feat of construction and transportation

    Ithaa consists of a five-meter by nine-meter transparent thick acrylic arches. The acrylic arch sections are sealed to each other and the structure with a special underwater silicone sealant and the steel structure is protected by a special high quality marine paint system and a series of zinc anodes.

    The structural timber comes from New Zealand and is known as treated pine. The outer and inner lining is western red cedar wood from Canada, while the acrylic comes from Colorado, USA. Ithaa was built in Singapore in four months. The structure was shipped from Singapore in one piece on a barge with a crane on board to lower it into the sea. The journey to Rangali Island from Singapore took 16 days. The resort’s main entrance channel had to be made deeper in order to allow the barge with the crane to pass through into the lagoon. The sand dredged up by cutting the channel was moved to the island’s beaches.

    Ithaa: An Undersea Restaurant
    The structure is supported onto four steel piles which were driven into the seabed. This method was selected to minimize the damage to the already existing reef. The piles were driven in from a barge mounted vibro-hammer.

    The restaurant’s total weight, when it was lowered to sea was 175 tonnes, with 85 more tonnes of sand having to be placed inside the belly of the structure to sink it into the sea. The total cost of building this restaurant was about US $5 million.

    Comfort and safety

    A top quality air-conditioning system was absolutely crucial for this restaurant. This was designed by a New Zealand firm Jackson Engineering to provide fresh air, cooling and to control humidity. The system provides 3 air changes per hour at a humidity level of 60%.

    The safety of the guests has been designed to very stringent standards. All access areas are fire proof to provide 3 hour fire rating. Access areas have sprinkler systems where the water supply and pressurizing system is independent of the resort services.

    Ithaa: An Undersea Restaurant

    The style quotient

    The table settings consist of the finest quality items—Dudson Element Air show plates and side plates, white Frette napkins, WMF Taika cutlery, 4-salt selection in a wooden container custom built for Ithaa, champagne and wine glasses from the Riedel Vinum Extreme range and additional chinaware by Rosenthal.

    Such a unique restaurant deserves a distinctive cuisine, which is why the theme is ‘contemporary Maldivian cuisine’, taking local spices, seasonings and traditional cooking methods, but adding a western twist to create an innovative style of cooking. Ithaa is the first and only restaurant in the world to offer fusion Maldivian cuisine.

    Ithaa: An Undersea Restaurant

    MGS Architecture June July 2007

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