Attractions

Sea view

A love of art and the environment led to the creation of two underwater museums, which provide homes for coral and sea life. Eco sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor tells Kathleen Whyman what inspires him


Read on turning pages | Download PDF | sign up to CLAD

What was your inspiration?
I’m a sculptor and was mainly working on land and with the landscape. I was creating objects that had no functional purpose other than their artistic value – the world’s cluttered enough, we need more of a reason to make things.

I had the idea that if I worked underwater, these objects would not only discuss the boundaries of art, they’d create habitat space for sea life and be beneficial to the environment. That was the main driving force.

How did you get started?
The first museum was in Grenada in 2006. I grew up in Spain, Portugal, Malaysia and the UK and happened to be living and teaching scuba diving in Grenada at the time.

I’d had the idea for the underwater sculptures for a while, so looked into how feasible it was and presented the concept to the local government. They were sceptical, but interested, so I started small with a couple of pieces and added to them. It kept growing and more people started to help and support the project. Over the course of two years I built the first underwater sculpture park, which contains 65 individual works and is called Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park.

The government of Mexico, after seeing this project, invited me to address some of the problems they have with high levels of tourism in Cancun. MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) opened in 2009 and has 510 permanent sculptural works.

How do the museums benefit the environment?
Prior to the museum, there was only one good snorkelling area in Grenada. All the boats would congregate in that area and there was damage to the reef from people jumping off boats and kicking corals and it was slowly deteriorating. I created another snorkelling site nearby to relieve some of that pressure – coral grows on the sculptures and fish live around them.

It was a similar objective in Cancun. The area has more than 750,000 visitors each year, so the objective was to try and manage those people and minimise the impact to the reef. The government wanted to start closing sections of the reef down to allow them to rejuvenate and thrive, but the business community threatened to sue the government for closing down their economy and insisted on an alternative offer. It was at that point that they contacted me.

How has the local community benefited?
The statistics are amazing. In Cancun, the diving has increased by 30 per cent in a few years and now gets over 80,000 visitors annually. In Grenada, the area never used to have visitors, but now gets 20,000 people a year. Seventy per cent of divers go to the museum site rather than the original reef. It’s in the top three TripAdvisor ratings and got voted by National Geographic as one of the Wonders of the World.

What are the sculptures?
Predominantly I use figurative forms, with concepts of humans working in harmony with nature. I strive to bring in themes of the threat to the reef and how we’re oblivious to what happens under water. I’ve sculpted a guy on a sofa watching TV, showing the irony of the way we live and how we’re so focused on our little worlds that we forget the bigger picture.

There are hundreds of sculptures ranging from The Silent Evolution – a crowd of 450 people which informs visitors on the various stages of reef evolution; a series of suburban dwellings designed to house individual marine species; The Listener – a lone figure assembled entirely from casts of human ears and a recording device to monitor the reef; and Reclamation, an angelic female form with wings that are propagated with living coral.

One of the large installations – The Silent Evolution – took me two years and an amazing amount of hard work and I was really pleased with it. Then I did a piece called Banker, which is a guy with his head in the sand, and that got just as much response and it only took a month to make and was really easy. I’ve learnt that you can have very potent images that can say just as much as the big, arduous projects.

What’s your message?
I hope people have more of an understanding of, and more respect for, all the amazing things that are happening underneath our oceans and have that in the forefront of their minds. Some of our coral reefs could be the first eco systems we lose if we continue with the problems associated with global warming.

What are the costs?
The construction isn’t expensive because the materials aren’t dear, but the installations are costly. We want the sculptures to weigh as much as possible so that they stay in place on the seabed and are very resilient – they’re planned to last for hundreds of years, so need to be very well constructed – but the heavier they are, the more expensive the logistics become. It’s a balance between working the two out so it becomes possible.

How are the sculptures secured?
They’re drilled into the ocean floor, but we rely on the weight to help. We have to keep the centre of gravity very low. It’s a new environment to work in and is subject to different forces.

There have been some terrible artificial reef projects where people haven’t fixed things well enough. One project around the coast of Carolina, US used old car tyres. The first storm that came along ripped them out, rolled them over the reef and destroyed all the coral, so it’s really important to ensure they’re fixed.

What are they made from?
They’re made out of specialised marine cement that’s 20 times more durable than normal construction cement and impervious to the salt water.

I can’t use metal as it would corrode and break down. Ninety per cent of public sculpture has some kind of metal in the armature or construction, so the challenge is to design objects differently. I use armatures made out of inert fibreglass and geo-textiles.

How do you ensure the sculptures are protected?
Mainly through education. We ask the guides to explain that these are artificial reefs and have signs underwater asking people not to touch the sculptures. But nowadays, everything’s a photo opportunity – people stand next to the sculptures and put their arms around them for a photo and then we get a breakage.

What are the challenges?
Firstly, it's getting permission. Before starting, I have to do a very strict environmental impact assessment for the government. That’s quite a difficult part of the process, depending upon the location – it’s very difficult to get permits in America, for example.

Navigating the weather and scheduling deployment is always difficult. If a dense wind falls it makes it far harder to work. Another challenge is the unpredictable nature of the sea. It can work in my favour – I might find some beautiful pink sponges and amazing coral growing, which is fantastic.

But there can be undesirable effects. We had an issue where we went along one day and all the sculptures were covered in thick algae. We couldn’t see anything at all, which was worrying. We cleaned it off half of them and three months later, the ones we’d cleaned had grown back worse, whereas the algae had started to disappear on the ones we hadn’t touched. That was quite a lesson in not messing with things too much. A year later the algae had gone completely from all of them.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished working at MUSA and have relocated to Europe. I’m in talks with people in Florida, Malaysia, and the Maldives. It’s fascinating because each place has very different conditions and the works would evolve very differently according to the location.

One of my aims is to advance the technology and research that allows more marine life to colonise the sculptures and create works that are more interactive for visitors. I’m currently devising some installations that start on land and then go into the sea. I’m also doing some pieces that rise out of the water so people can dive off them and others with lights so people can scuba dive at night.

I have plenty of ideas, which I can't reveal yet, but at this moment in time I’ve just begun an exciting project off the coast of Lanzarote. The crystal blue Atlantic waters surrounding the island are home to a completely different marine ecosystem and the project will discuss the topic of climate change and migration. It is supported by the Achenbach Art Foundation and the regional government.

This feature first appeared in Attractions Management Issue 1 2014

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
latest jobs
Circa £40,000 per annum
Job location: Manchester, UK
company profile
Company profile: Alliance Leisure Services Ltd
The company’s core business is the provision of facility development and support for local authorities, educational establishments and leisure trusts that want to improve or expand the leisure products and services they offer.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
Winding pathways lead visitors through the site, connecting Whiting Forest with Dow Gardens
Alan Metcalfe
"When people are a bit scared, they gather together"

Featuring a vibrating glass platform and one of the US’s longest tree canopy walks, Whiting Forest has been designed to bring visitors closer to nature and to one another

The guestroom interiors are by Foster + Partners
Dana Kalczak
"If we had focused entirely on high tech in the hotel, the artistry we normally strive for would have been compromised"

Four Seasons’ vice president of design speaks to CLAD about working with Norman Foster and creating magical moments

Interview: John McElgunn and Stephen Barrett
Stephen Barrett (left) 
and John McElgunn (right) were both made partners at RSHP in 2016
"Leisure space – public space – is at the very root of democracy, and architecture is about democracy"

As RSHP completes its latest cultural project, we speak to two of its partners about why Richard Rogers isn’t leaving his succession to chance

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
The dramatic-looking Musée de la Romanité opened in June in Nîmes, France
Elizabeth de Portzamparc
"We need to stop the destruction of our world through predatory practices. We need to think of the future"

The architect behind Nimes’ Musée de la Romanité on designing to counter loneliness and the need for more cultural buildings

The Smog Free Project turns smog into jewellery
"I want to demonstrate that creativity is our true capital as humans "

Rather than feeling fearful and helpless about the future, we must design a way out of the environmental problems we have created, argues the innovative Dutch designer, artist and inventor Daan Roosegaarde

Danish landscape architecture firm SLA designed the rooftop park to attract a range of wildlife
"It was born from the sheer anxiety of having to submit something brilliant in a very short timescale"

How a moment of desperation led to BIG’s CopenHill, the clean power plant that’s doubling as a skiing and leisure destination. Magali Robathan speaks to the architects that made it happen

features
"Further hotels have been confirmed for Los Angeles, Santa Clara, CA, Seattle, Chicago and Houston"

Rockwell Group and Joyce Wang on the inspirations behind the guest rooms, public spaces, spa and gym at Equinox Hotel Hudson Yards

Many of the cottages feature earth-sheltered designs
"Sam was such a champion for the team, and my goal is simply to carry that same torch"

As Blackberry Mountain resort opens in Tennessee, we find out why the project is a deeply personal one for owner Mary Celeste Beall

There is a pool and spa complex on the ground floor
Martin Jochman founded JADE+QA in 2013. He formerly worked for Atkins
"We didn’t want to put in any gimmicks. We wanted to create a building that’s inherently sustainable through passive sustainability"

When Martin Jochman set out to transform an old quarry into a luxury hotel, he faced some serious challenges

cladkit product news
Space Popular creates video installation for the Gwangmyeongmun Gate in South Korea
Gate of Bright Lights was designed to show visitors how screens and digital interfaces have replaced physical objects the gateway between us and the rest of the world.
Lauren Heath-Jones
Multidisciplinary design firm Space Popular has created a video installation for the Gwangmyeongmun Gate at the Deoksugung Palace in Seoul, ...
John Pomp Studios expands Tidal collection
The Eclipse Pendant light was inspired by the lunar eclipse
Lauren Heath-Jones
John Pomp Studios, a design practice based in Philadelphia in the US, has expanded its Tidal collection to include five ...
BIG partners with Louis Poulsen for new lighting collection
The Keglen collection is made up of four different pendants
Lauren Heath-Jones
BIG Ideas, the technology arm of renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG), has partnered with Danish lighting manufacturer Louis ...
cladkit product news
XTU concept imagines life in the clouds
XTU's X Cloud concept is part of the Future and the Arts: AI, Robotic, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo
Lauren Heath-Jones
XTU Architects, a Paris-based architecture firm, has released images and renderings of X Cloud, a new concept that showcase a ...
Naval architect launches solar-powered floating pods
The Anthénea pod is a luxury floating suite that could be used as a spa or treatment suite
Lauren Heath-Jones
Naval architect Jean-Michel Ducancelle has designed a solar-powered floating hotel suite aimed at offering an eco-friendly and nomadic place for ...
Pelle DVN Table inspired by traditional Japanese carpentry
The DVN Table was created using Japanese joinery techniques
Lauren Heath-Jones
Jean and Oliver Pelle, the husband and wife team behind New York-based design studio Pelle, have created the DVN Table, ...
cladkit product news
Daniel Svahn creates furniture collection using repurposed table tops
The Goodies But Oldies collection features three pieces made from repurposed MDF table tops
Lauren Heath-Jones
Daniel Svahn, a Stockholm-based furniture designer, has created a new range of sustainable furnishings, made from recycled MDF tabletops. Svahn, ...
Canteen collection combines nostalgia with modern aesthetics
The Canteen collection was inspired by post-war British design techniques
Lauren Heath-Jones
Very Good & Proper (VG&P), a British furniture brand, has curated a new dining collection that combines traditional woodworking techniques ...
Tino Seubert x Theodora Alfredsdottir lighting collection inspired by mid-century furniture making traditions
The Corrugation Lights were inspired by midcentury and post-war furniture making techniques
London-based designers Tino Seubert and Theodora Alfredsdottir have teamed up to create Corrugation Lights, a lighting collection inspired by midcentury ...