Sunday, 20 April 2014

Stromberg's underwater city now a reality?

The broadcaster Alan Whicker once said of the Bond films that they “are not afraid to be ridiculous; they provide a framework of fantasy that's just possible. Not science fiction, but science fact.” This was later echoed by Cubby Broccoli who said of Moonraker that, “we're not science fiction, we're science fact. It's science fact plus our own fantasy of Bond.” Both statements recall Ian Fleming's view that his plots “go wildly beyond the probable, but not, I think, beyond the possible.”

A model of Stromberg's undersea city, with Roger Moore's Bond looking on

Still, you have to wonder with some of the plots – Stromberg's plan in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) to create an underwater city with his submersible base, Atlantis, at its centre, for example. But even this isn't as far-fetched as it seems. By the mid 1970s, the technology of the sort that would be required to make Stromberg's vision a reality wasn't far behind (indeed, marine biologists had already established underwater laboratories). Today a number of research facilities allowing researchers to stay underwater for a prolonged periods exist, while underwater tourism and resorts are being developed.

One of the earliest undersea bases was established by one of Ian Fleming's heroes, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Continental Shelf Station II, or Conshelf II, was an underwater starfish-shaped 'habitat' built off the coast of Sudan in 1963 that accommodated six 'oceanauts' for a month. It replaced the first Conshelf, which, built a year earlier, was a more modest steel tube structure that was built at a depth of 10m off the coast of Marseilles. (I'm reminded of Dr No's armoured glass-sided aquarium six metres underwater (Dr No, 1958), which itself, given the reality of the later Conshelf projects, may not have been, in Fleming's words, “beyond the possible.”)

Today, one of the best established underwater research laboratories is Aquarius. It was deployed in 1993 by Florida International University and is located in deep reef in the Florida Keys. Apart from providing a base for marine exploration, the habitat boasts several home comforts, including a shower, toilet, hot water, cooking facilities and wifi. Missions inside Aquarius tend to be relatively short, though – usually ten days, occasionally two weeks or more.

As sophisticated as it is, any researcher diving down to Aquarius looking for a structure befitting a meglomaniac would be disappointed. Aquarius is more Yellow Submarine than Atlantis. For  the sort of structures that Ken Adam might have designed, we have to turn to underwater tourism. One underwater resort being developed is the Discus Hotel off the coast of Dubai. This hotel complex comprises a disc raised on stilt-like supports above the sea and a disc built ten metres below the sea around a central pillar – Atlantis meets Piz Gloria. Then there's Poseidon's Mysterious Island, which forms part of the Poseidon Undersea Resort project in Fiji. Accommodation and other tourist facilities are available in an array of underwater pods connected by a central unit and what looks like a shaft that gives access to the surface.

A project that seems more in line with Stromberg's vision of permanent undersea living (minus the destruction of the earth by nuclear missile, of course) is futurologist Phil Pauley's Sub-Biosphere 2. Apart from providing a base for underwater research and tourism, Sub-Biosphere 2 is designed to accommodate on a permanent basis 100 people, which, Pauley considers, “is the minimum number that would be required to rebuild our species in the event of a catastrophic man-made or natural disaster.” Pauley adds that in the future “we may be safer living underneath the sea in the long-term.” The concept structure comprises eight pods arranged in a ring around a large central pod. As with Atlantis, the whole structure is designed to be raised and lowered above and below the sea.

Judging by the underwater structures highlighted here, it is reasonable to suggest that, like the space aspects of Moonraker, the underwater city ideas within The Spy Who Loved Me are based on elements of 'science fact'. It is testament to the production team of the film that Stromberg's Atlantis, almost 40 years after the film was made, retains a degree of plausibility and doesn't look too out of place against the likes of the Discus Hotel, Sub-Biosphere and other underwater habitats.

Further reading:

1 comment:

  1. Another very interesting piece. I had planned to do something on this myself combined with the religious, scientific and mythical aspects of Karl Stromberg and Atlantis and will get round to it at some point I'm sure on the blog.


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