I’ve had this idea for a long time: to be able to go into the ocean without getting wet,” says Josef Kleindienst, CEO of the Kleindienst Group, the biggest European real-estate and property developer in Dubai. “I actually don’t like snorkeling or diving because, to be honest, I am afraid of the ocean, but I was always curious about what other people were seeing underwater.” Kleindienst’s curiosity led him to conceive of the Floating Seahorse Villas, what will ultimately be 130 luxury-houseboatlike structures, most of them connected via jetties to the St. Petersburg resort island, off the coast of Dubai. (The St. Petersburg is actually part of the master plan for a megaresort, the Heart of Europe, consisting of six islands in the shape of a world map.) What differentiates these from other handsome modernist houseboats is that below deck is an underwater level containing the master bedroom and a full bathroom with a freestanding tub, both of which have floor-to-ceiling windows with views of passing fish.
These properties, when they’re completed by the end of 2017, will cost at least $2,700 a night; for now, there is a model villa floating in the Arabian Gulf. The sea is, of course, surrounded by desert sands, which can make the water murky in strong currents or winds. “Sometimes the visibility from the bedroom is only one meter,” Kleindienst says. To counteract that, and to attract marine life, there is a program in place to build artificial reefs and attach real coral to all structures. “We expect the visibility to go up to ten meters.” And when the project is finished, Kleindienst says, “we will have around 5 million square feet of coral to attract a lot of sea life — as well as tourists to come for diving and snorkeling.” Those mildly wary of sleeping underwater can rest assured: “The shark is outside the window,” Kleindienst says, “and the window is strong enough to keep him outside.”
*This article appears in the October 17, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.