Conshelf or the Precontinent Project

Continental Shelf Station was an attempt at creating an environment in which people could live and work on the sea floor. Precontinent has been used to describe the set of projects to build an underwater “village” carried out by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea between 1961 and 1963. The projects were named Precontinent I, Precontinent II and Precontinent III. Particularly Precontinent II off the sudanese coast received wide public recognition and was documented in a movie with the somewhat sensationalist yet eerie title “World without sun“. For a good overview of the project see: or

thanks to Lajos Talamonti for the lead!

Underwater City 1969

The british movie “Captain Nemo and the underwater city” by James Hill picks up the themes and main character Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s famous novel and the sucessfull 1954 Disney movie on the same material. While the earlier US-movie develops further the theme of the Atomic Age and it’s promises and dangers, the 1969 movie focuses on the idea of alternative, egalitarian communities and the then popular dome structures (gedesic dome) in architecture, the Montreal Biosphere built by Buckminster Fuller in 1967 being maybe the most influential and notable expample.

The underwater city in the 1969 movie
The Montreal Biosphere

Each movie thus reflects the topics of it’s time. While the 1954 version is stylistically much closer to a Fin de Siecle, 19. Century aesthetic, the 1969 movie is all 60’s glitz and extravaganza. Furthermore, in the 1969 movie life under water seems like a perfectly sane and technically achievable project, while in 1954 Captain Nemo still clings on to life on land.

This is a fundamental not only technical but also political shift: The idea of leaving the known world behind, going up in space or down into the sea or exiling yourself in an alternative community is now fully developed. The Apollo Program that brought humans into space ran from 1968 to 1972. And in 1963 Jacques Cousteau constructed an underwater station where he stayed with a team of scientists for 30 days. The civilized world had thus become one of several options.

While the screen shot above shows a view of a complete city, it remains the only moment in the movie when the underwater city is actually seen. The action almost exclusively takes place in the rooms of Captain Nemo and in a swimming pool leisure area that looks more like it was directly taken from Blake Edward’s Hollywood satire “The Party” from one year earlier than like anything resembling a city. No houses, no streets, no stores or any other features of an urban environment are depicted.

It seems that the city as a theme and topography of movies did not play a big role in the 1960’s, quite to the opposite of the era of pre-war cinema. (Take for example “Metropolis” from 1927 about another model city run by a benevolent autocrat. See my post here) . The same mixture of artificial wilderness, tropical allure and wild west or pirate movie elements, all covered by a huge dome, can also be found in today’s indoor water parks like Tropical Island near Berlin:

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Like no other movie Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster made extensive use of the iconology of cities, and most of all of the most iconic of them all: New York!

In a very clever way, the advertisment company also adopted this strategy to various localities, asking the local audiences, “Where will you be?” Here is the ad for the Australian release:

Neromanna – A film about a sunken community

Athens based artist collective Latent Community produced this wonderful film about the story of Kallio in Fokida, Greece, a village that was expropriated in 1969 and was covered in 1981 by the waters of the artificial lake created by the Mornos Dam for use as a reservoir for the city of Athens. The lake has been the main source of water for the Greek capital ever since. The community got dispersed, many of the people of Kallio now living in Athens themselves.

I was lucky to meet Latent Community in their studio in Athens and discuss the impact of flooding on the collective psyche of a community and the political implications of Athens incessant thirst for fresh water.

The Ocean people fight back

My favorite idea from the DC Aquaman movie (2018) is merely a small detail. When the Aquarians start to fight back against us, the people above sea level, one of their first maneuvers is throwing the human garbage back on land. That includes of course submarines. Here are two images from the news-flash-section of the movie:

Atlantis as a ship

In the final episode of the Sci Fi series “Stargate Atlantis” the city vessel Atlantis eventually lands in the San Francisco bay. Atlantis here is a city that can both fly in outerspace and float on water.

This is the city plan according to one Stargate Wiki:

USA; 21. Century; Christian; Film; City: Atlantis

Iconic Image from “Planet of the Apes”

Thanks to Stephan Wagner for the reminder.

USA; 20. Century; Christian; film; City: New York

Hong Kong Bay

… with wall to protect the city from the creatures of the deep in the movie Pacific Rim (2013)

and now, or rather, in reality…

USA, China; 21. Century; Christian; Movie; City: Hong Kong

Jupiter’s Darling

USA; 20. Century; Christian; Movie; City: Rome

Horizontal versus Vertical View

In this scene from the movie “Aquaman” (2018) Atlantis sinks into the ocean. Unlike in all other disaster movies I know, the scene is pictured from a horizontal view line, not from a vertical one. The camera levels with the sea and thus we see both parts of the city: the buildings above water and the buildings below the water line.

This perspective is appropriate for Atlantis, as the city does not perish with it’s submersion but becomes what it is known for through history – and what carries the whole plot of the movie too – a fabled underwater empire.

But the camera position is also noteworthy, as it puts the viewer on the same treshold between the two elements and in a very uncomfortable place. We see the city sink while we ourselves are in the water up to our necks. The change from bird’s eye view – actually it is “plane eye” – to level view is crucial because it means leaving a superhuman and very powerful perspective up in the sky and taking on a more human but also much more involved position. In fact, it’s what a deluge would look like for most people, aas opposed to this:

from Geostorm (2017)

USA; 21. Century; Christian; movie; City: Atlantis