Engineers have been hotly debating the feasibility of a proposed underwater tennis court off the coast of Dubai with a curved glass roof from which spectators can view marine life. Or, rather, a tennis match.
Renderings by Polish architect Krysztof Kotala show schools of fish and stingray gliding overhead in a brightly-lit facility, but engineers have called for a reality check. The primary crack in the concept consists in the fact that the transparent ceiling would require a continuous pane of glass measuring at least 108 feet-wide to accommodate the court and spectators.
However, flat panels of glass are manufactured at widths of 32-feet apiece, and manufacturing curved glass of that dimension would require unheard-of machinery. While an arched roof would best distribute the immense water pressure, the glass “would weigh possibly a hundred tons,” Sarah Fray, director of engineering and technical services at the Institution of Structural Engineers in London, told the Daily Mail. What’s more, the glass would have to be several feet thicker at the edges than at the center of the arch. “The more joints there are the more likely it is to leak,” warned Fray.
Depending on the depth at which the court is submerged, sunlight penetration could be minimal or enough to blind tennis players when refracted by the glass and the water. “I can’t imagine players not finding the fish distracting, either,” mused Fray.
Fray, who doubts Kotala’s appeals to investors will elicit any takers, also voiced misgivings in terms of construction feasibility. “You’d have to construct a watertight base, sit the glass on top and seal it, and then pump the water out.” Furthermore, the facility would have to be proofed against earthquakes and tsunamis, with provisions made for emergency evacuations above water.
Renderings suggest the court will be located near the man-made Palm Islands, itself a gargantuan feat of engineering in a country reputed for its taste for the superlative. “The technological challenges are big but the human challenges are bigger.” Fray cautioned. Conversely, Kotala, enamored with his novel idea, insists: “This will be something original. It should be somewhere where there is the tradition of tennis. Dubai is perfect for this idea.”