Coralarium, Maldives

The Coralarium is a semi-submerged tidal gallery created by artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, that interlinks the skyline, inter-tidal waterline and seabed.

Situated in the centre of the largest developed coral lagoon in the Maldives, on the island resort of Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, the work aims to create a direct pathway to the ocean.

A long swimming pool transects the island and denotes the starting point. The installation begins by following this line into the clear shallow waters of the sea where an underwater coral pavement begins. Sea-scaped with underwater poplar trees and endemic planted corals, it heads 100-metres through the shallows towards the underwater realm, a symbolic pathway to another world and the starting point of the artistic intervention.

After a 50-metre swim, visitors encounter a submerged staircase, which leads up towards a semi-submerged tidal building. The building is cube shaped, six metres tall, with its front façade submerged up to median tide of three metres. The design of the walls is based on natural coral structures, and is porous to allow the tides, current and marine life to pass through it and the structure to ‘breathe’ within its location. The complex structural formation is designed to dissipate oceanic forces while creating a protective space that encourages nature to colonise and seek refuge. The construction, using high grade, polished, marine stainless steel aims to reflect and mirror the surrounding blues of the coral atoll and the sky above. A mirage on the horizon, that over time will take on the patina of the sea as it becomes colonised by algae and weathers within the environment.

The entrance of the building is situated above water and leads into a dry elevated viewing platform. The roof is perforated with a coral pattern to allow beams of light to illuminate the individual works and a series of submerged lights to illuminate the space during the night. The Coralarium becomes a portal or interface to the wonders of the underwater world.

Mushroom Lighting was approached in December 2017 by the installation electrical company Welford Lamplighters, on behalf of DeCaires Taylor, to design a lighting scheme for The Coralarium.

The budget was very tight and required the lighting of submerged and semi submerged sculptures within the stainless steel structure. The lighting was designed to not only light the sculptures but also to light the enclosure so that it was visible from the shore at night, as the sun set behind it, and also light the water so that night diving would be possible.

Mushroom Lighting chose 24 of the new Gantom Storm DMX RGBW 4.8 watt IP67 floods for above the water and eight Teclumen Mini Sub Color TKX RGBW 15 watt IP68 Spots with 120-degree beam for beneath the waves. The Gantoms were supplied in a custom aluminium finish to blend in with the stainless steel, and the Teclumens were finished in stainless steel.

A total of eight programmes were installed into a Chromateq controller, with a light show on the hour. This includes various themes, such as fire and ice, when the waves take on the appearance of flames, and the structure turns ice blue, as well as highlighting various elements of the structure.

The program runs over approximately twelve minutes, and then settles into a static scene, with the whole cycle repeating every hour. A time switch built into the control system keeps the cycle repeating.

Numerous challenges were overcome that are not the norm, such as monsoon rain and the entire working area frequently being underwater. The underwater element has provided an amazing environment for fish, and the scuba divers are taken on a journey through the Coralarium, experiencing night diving at its finest.