Global challenges like climate change and food sustainability have driven career aquanaut and third-generation ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau to the depths looking for answers. Now, he’s tapped designer Yves Béhar of fuseproject for his—and possibly Béhar’s—most ambitious project to date.
Commissioned by the Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center, PROTEUS is an underwater research facility that, like the International Space Station, will serve as a platform for global collaboration. From 60 feet below the Caribbean Sea, off the island of Curaçao, teams of up to 12 will be able to conduct prolonged research while comfortably immersed in planet Earth’s final frontier.
"The intent is to offer an effective, comfortable, and attractive destination for researchers," states Béhar, "and an exciting underwater structure that garners the same passion for ocean exploration as we have for space exploration."
In a 2014 mission, Cousteau produced three years’ worth of valuable research in just 31 days by living in an underwater lab the size of a school bus. Acclimating to the depths allowed for much longer SCUBA dives, and more fruitful work. To encourage more of the same, he and Béhar took a holistic approach to the design of the new research center.
The roomy station is designed to span 4,000 square feet—four times the size of any known underwater habitat. The structure is set on adjustable stilts, and modular pods fixed to the exterior will hold state-of-the-art laboratories, bathrooms, sleeping quarters, medical bays, life support systems, or storage rooms. A moon-shaped pool allows for submersibles to dock as needed.
The design promotes well-being and provides many of the comforts of home—an improvement on "most facilities of this nature," which Béhar says typically forego a sense of home in favor of cold utility. The station’s spiraling shape encourages physical activity as researchers and visitors move through the living, cooking, dining, and work areas. Each is arranged to promote social interaction—isolation can be an issue when relegated to the depths—and circular windows dot the ceiling and facades to provide as much natural light as possible.
While Cousteau continues to pursue solutions for a more sustainable future, the structure is designed to play its part. Renewable energy will be sourced from the wind, sun, and an ocean thermal system that harnesses energy from temperature differences between surface water and deeper ocean water. A greenhouse will grow fresh food for consumption, as open flames are prohibited in underwater habitats.
Experiments and research conducted aboard PROTEUS will be caught on tape with a full-scale video production facility, and live streams will be broadcast via WiFi to provide both educational programming and a content stream to collaborators worldwide. Cousteau says the entire effort is a continuation of a philosophy set in place by his grandfather, the ocean exploration pioneer Jacques Cousteau. "People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they are taught," he once said.
Great discoveries are waiting in the deep blue, and Béhar’s design puts us at least a little bit closer to finding them—Cousteau is certain of it. "As our life support system, the ocean is indispensable to solving the planet’s biggest problems," he says. "The knowledge that will be uncovered underwater will forever change the way generations of humans live up above."
More from Yves Béhar and fuseproject:
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