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The Oil Rig Hotel

Published time: April 22, 2009 14:48
Edited time: April 22, 2009 14:48

If you think spending a week’s vacation on an oil rig parked dozens of miles out to sea is an insane idea, think again.

When architect Douglas Oliver of Houston’s Morris Architects achieves his Green goal of transforming the Gulf of Mexico’s dried up oil rigs into self-sufficient, eco-friendly, high end resorts, we might all be rushing out to make reservations.

Based upon a daring 180-degree shift from the ultimate symbol of oil dependence to ecological preserve and playground, Oliver’s vision takes advantage of the fact that over the next century, an estimated 4000 oil rigs will be decommissioned in the Gulf of Mexico. The current method for demolishing these concrete structures is to dynamite them—an environmentally reckless process that wreaks havoc on surrounding sea life. But with the oil rig allowed to remain intact, the more than 20,000 square feet of available platform space can be turned into 80 million square feet of utilizable hotel and resort space accessible by boat, chopper, and even submarine.

Oliver’s design recently took the grand prize in the prestigious Radical Innovation in Hospitality Designs Awards sponsored by Atlanta Georgia’s John Hardy Group and Hospitality Design Magazine. While recycling a former oil producing, industrial behemoth into an eco-tourist resort might seem like a crazy idea that holds little water, its principle design thesis is surprisingly practical. Once the rig undergoes a hazmat cleanup, it is then ready for construction. With the platform acting as a giant reinforced concrete foundation, all that’s required is to build up. Oliver has combated the astronomically high cost of off-shore construction by designing prefabricated guest rooms that mimic the size and shape of standard cargo containers. Much like building a tower out of giant Legos, the containers are then stacked in place along the exterior perimeter of the square-shaped platform, affording the eco-tourist not only the ultimate oceanfront view, but the sensation of floating over the sea.

But is the Oil Rig Hotel intended for eco-tourists alone, and wealthy ones at that?

Oliver is planning a full-service resort for all sorts of folks. “We do believe that the Rig will be used by many types of visitors. The artificial reef formed by the legs of the oil platform will be used by sport fisherman and divers. Day trips by small leisure boats will dock at the surface marine and the bars, restaurants, and pool will be available. Cruise ships will also make the Rig Hotel a day port of call.”

Other hotel attractions include a rooftop beach, a world-class conference facility, a stargazer lounge, boat launches, a helipad, an interior lobby that provides a view of the sea below, a diving bell, a gambling casino that would make James Bond proud, and much more. With all this activity going on, you might expect this former energy producer to now become an energy waster of oceanic proportions. But here’s the wonderful thing about recycled oil rigs: they have the world’s ecologists smiling up a storm.

Oil Rig Hotel

Said simply, the Oil Rig Hotel is a Green architectural and engineering masterpiece. The totally self-sufficient facility will not only provide safe haven for more than 20,000 fish, it will provide 100% of its own renewable energy. Sustainable power will be derived from three sources: wind turbines mounted to existing platforms and derricks, wave energy generators installed as fixed units in shallower depths, and as buoys in deep waters, and finally, exterior mounted solar panels.

Much like Dubai in the Middle East, where oil platform conversions are also being planned, the Gulf of Mexico has a never ending supply of waves, wind, and sun--renewable energy of the Green kind. The Gulf also has the USA for a backyard. Says Lisa Schoonover, a Texas travel agent: “Do I see the Gulf of Mexico platform hotels becoming like Dubai? I think the Gulf could be bigger than Dubai, just because of the close proximity to the US.”

With rig construction costs estimated to run in the tens of millions during this period of global recession, it’s no surprise that developers are approaching the award winning concept with all the caution of a shark circling dangerous prey. But then, the shark has to eat, and it’s only a matter of time until the eco-tourist water world is officially under construction. After all, it’s rare that a unique hotel and spa concept can generate so much approval from so many different groups of people. From ecologists, to Green designers, to water sportsman, to beach bums, there’s something here for everyone to dive into.

But with all its reputed ecological soundness and eco-tourist friendly qualities, is the Oil Rig Hotel just another money generating corporate shark all wrapped up in Green wool? While Oliver deserves to exercise his free market right to a fair profit, one senses a genuine desire to create a sustainable water-based tourist destination that doesn’t compete with the sea, but lives in harmony with it. Taken a step further, it’s possible that the Rig Hotel improves upon nature’s grand scheme with its artificial reefs.

Architect Oliver expresses his design philosophy thusly: “We think the big idea is the thoughtful and sustainable re-use of industrial icons of non-renewable energy into very green resorts that are powered by clean energy.”

In building his Oil Rig Hotel, Oliver is creating a Green revolution in responsible eco-tourist hotel and spa design, and he’s doing it in the middle of an ocean atop what used to be the ultimate gas guzzler. All profits aside, who would dare throw water on that Green concept?

Vincent Zandri for RT