February 5, 2009 Think "oil rig" and what comes to mind? Deafening noise, pounding seas, people covered in black muck and ugly metal structures? Perhaps even explosions and Red Adair, but it’s unlikely "luxury resort" popped into your head. However, thousands of decommissioned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico could in future be given a new lease of life as exclusive, self-sufficient eco-resorts for those looking for a new holiday experience.

Morris Architects program to turn a disused rig into a high-end resort experience won them the $10,000 Grand Prize in the Radical Innovation in Hospitality awards.

Around 4,000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico will be decommissioned within the next century. Given that an average deck on one of these rigs is about 20,000 square feet, that’s potentially 80 million square feet of usable space just off the coast of the United States.

Rig resorts could become America’s answer to destinations like Dubai (but, we hope, without as much bling). They could also appeal to conference organizers and businesses looking for an unusual venue, and be used as a port of call by cruise ships en route to other destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Rig to reef to resort

When their working life is over rigs are either blown up, which costs millions of dollars and kills much of the surrounding marine life, or taken ashore and salvaged for scrap. Some states in the Gulf of Mexico already have a
Rig- to-Reefs program in place where the decommissioned rig is left, toppled in place (or towed to an alternate location) to serve as an artificial reef for the fish habitat they created during their active life.

Despite environmental damage, rigs do provide a home to an abundance of marine life: A report by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) found that fish densities are 20 to 50 times higher near offshore platforms than in nearby open water.

The Rig Resort takes the recycling a step further by providing a commercial – and environmentally friendly – use for some of the rig infrastructure.

“As the adaptive reuse of an abandoned oil rig the Rig Resort offers a potentially commercially viable solution to an environmental hazard by providing alternative adventure travel opportunities based on a natural setting, simultaneously creating new jobs previously non-existent in the area,” said John Hardy, president and CEO of the John Hardy Group and co-sponsor of the design competition.

Self-sufficient, eco-friendly

The old rig would be transformed from environmental hazard into something of an environmental savior through the use of wind, wave and solar power, all easily integrated into the existing structure.

“The big idea is that an icon of non-renewable energy will be powered by totally clean and renewable power,” said Douglas Oliver, Director of Design at Morris Architects.

Wind turbines would be mounted to existing platforms, saving the cost of building new towers, and wave energy generators would be installed either as fixed units in shallower waters or as buoys in deeper waters: the vertical movement of waves would power turbines and create electricity. For heating and cooling, land-based geothermal systems could be modified to work at sea, taking advantage of constant temperatures at lower sea levels. Solar panels would also be used.


Let’s face it, it can get mighty rough out on the ocean, especially during storms, so what happens if you’re the sort of person who gets seasick just looking at the waves?

The Rig Resort features a core of water that acts as ballast for stability during rough weather. And according to Douglas Oliver, “The gulf of Mexico is not as subject to large non-storm swells as the Atlantic or Pacific. It really takes a tropical storm or hurricane to kick things up and of course you would evacuate everybody to shore well in advance of such an event.”

He says the experience of being on the Rig Resort "would not be substantially different than cruise ships where it usually takes a day or so to get your sea legs.”

Entertainment – above the water

Rather like a cruise ship, once you get to the rig, effectively in the middle of nowhere, you’re stuck there until the end of your stay. But fear not, there will be plenty to do from sailing, parasailing, Moth racing, windsurfing, jetskiing, waterskiing and sport fishing to lazing around at the roof-top’s white sand "beach", which includes an infinity edge pool, shallow sunbathing areas, deep water training facilities and lap pools.

Other amenities include a grand ballroom for weddings and events, state-of-the-art fitness center and spa, luxury shopping, nightly entertainment, gaming casino, a stargazer lounge and exquisite dining including a catch-it/grill-it gourmet service.

… and below

Seating areas in front of each guest room surround the stabilizing water core which doubles as a deep-water pool for exotic evening shows, similar to
Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas ‘O’. In addition to scuba diving and snorkeling a dive bell will provide below-rig adventures for close-ups of the abundant marine life.

Minimalist is the new luxury

The structure of the luxury guest rooms is based on the concept of sea barnacles attached to rocks and ship hulls. The prefabricated rooms would be transported to the platform within a standard cargo container, then unfolded and extended, or transformed, at the destination rig.

Space is at a premium so a sofa used by day expands into a bed at night, sliding into place over the hot tub so you can watch the evening performances taking place in the deep-water pool. A viewing "port" can be extended from each room to take in ocean life - and retracted if the weather turns bad.

If you’re itching to book your next holiday on the Rig Resort you’re in for a bit of a wait. While Douglas Oliver says the Hardy group has researched the feasibility of the project and has been positive about it, we’ll have to wait for the global economy to pick up before we see it become a reality.

Karen Sprey

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