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Feb / Mar 2014
Crystal Clear

WRITER: Michael Tanenbaum

We do, as the old music hall number goes, like to be beside the seaside. But it turns out you don’t need to be by the sea to live there. Enter Crystal Lagoons, a visionary company creating manmade lagoons everywhere and anywhere.

 

Ever since Robinson found paradise in the South Pacific and Chanel turned the tan into a perpetual must-have, seafront property has gone from being the province of fishermen to becoming some of the most prized by developers and buyers, worldwide.

Of course, not everywhere is fortunate enough to have enough coastline to go around. In cities like Dubai, where money is less of an object and terra-forming meets with very little opposition, the city has remedied the shortfall by building canals and lagoons that bring the sea inland. But what do you do when you don’t have a coast to begin with? Could, for example, Riyadh ever have a beach?

One visionary company, Crystal Lagoons, has made remedying this modern dilemma its vocation and the transformational concept it has come up with is finding its way into real estate developments all over the world.

Founded by Chilean developer Fernando Fischmann, Crystal Lagoons specialises in the creation of artificial lagoons that are engineered to be functional year-round, in any climate. Decidedly of the South Pacific kind – acres of crystalline water that lap up on shelves of soft, white sand – the lagoons can be built anywhere; by the sea, in the desert, up in the mountains. Even in the middle of the city. Anywhere, in short, that there’s the space and the desire.

A biochemist by training, Fischmann built his first lagoon in San Alfonso del Mar, a resort in Algarrobo on Chile’s central coast. Considered less desirable by developers due to its frigid, turbulent sea, Fischmann’s 1.5 billion USD lagoon, built between the holiday homes and the sea, did not just impress with its size, it also demonstrated the salubrious effect a pristine, turquoise water lagoon could have on local real estate prices.

That was back in 1997 and the 8 hectare lagoon made headlines around the world for being the world’s longest swimming pool - more than 20 Olympic lengths. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. When setbacks with the filtration system emerged, Fischmann conducted extensive research, both to perfect the technology and to salvage his investment in the resort. It paid off. Over the next several years, local property values and unit sales rocketed. A decade later, Crystal Lagoons was officially born.

“It’s more than just one patent or one idea,” explains CEO Kevin P. Morgan, who also takes care of the company’s American projects out of Miami. “It’s the culmination of a series of innovative technologies built on a platform that allows it to work in a sustainable manner.”

Now patented in 160 countries worldwide, the most attractive aspect of a Crystal Lagoon is that it can use all kinds of water, salt, fresh and even brackish, which exists in great quantities but is currently used for very little. The lagoons cost very little to run, require minimal pumping and far fewer chemicals than a swimming pool to keep water clear. Additionally, a Crystal Lagoon is virtually renewable, in as much as water loss incurred through evaporation can largely be replaced through rainfall.

“The real game-changing power of this technology is that it allows you to transform sites that would otherwise not have been viable as waterfront developments,” Morgan continues, explaining the company’s surging success. “You could never fathom building in some of our locations without the technology we use today.”

The company makes it both financially and ecologically viable to create lagoons of previously unimaginable (and unlimited) size, in any location. Demand for Crystal Lagoons has risen steadily among developers in the Americas, in Asia – even Paradise itself, the Maldives, have Crystal Lagoons under construction - and of late, the Arab world has jumped on board too. Jordan, Oman, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco all now have projects underway.

“When we were approached to build a lagoon at Sharm el Sheikh,” Morgan continues, “the developer told us that without our technology, his project simply would not have been viable. It’s in the middle of the Sinai Desert, 10 kilometres from the Red Sea, on land that previously had low commercial value.”

A whopping 12 hectares in size, the lagoon in Sharm el Sheikh is currently the largest operating Crystal Lagoon in the world. This distinction gained it entry in the Guinness Book of World Records but the company is already on the way to supplanting this record with its most ambitious undertaking to date.

In 2013, Crystal Lagoons signed an agreement with the UAE government and developers in Dubai for a massive lagoon that will cover 36 hectares – the equivalent of around 18,000 normal swimming pools – and which will serve as the centrepiece of the Mohammed bin Rashid City District One residential community, a couple of kilometres from the Burj Khalifa.

The mega-project, a joint venture between Meydan and  Sobha, an Indian development company based in Bangalore, was revealed last October at the Cityscape Global 2013. It’s slated for completion by the time Dubai hosts the World Expo in 2020. In addition to the lagoon, the district will include 1,500 luxury villas, public parks, dining, shopping and recreational facilities.

“Hosting the World Expo will place the entire region on the world stage and fuel demand for exclusive developments,” Morgan says. “Our technology is especially well-suited to the Middle East because of the abundance of land and the possibility of using salty water for our projects.”

By bringing swimming, sailing and other water sports to places that previously did not have them, Crystal Lagoons has found their projects greatly influence both local lifestyle and, through increased desirability, demographics. Meanwhile, it continues to refine its technology – and buff its sustainable credentials in the process – so that lagoons can also be tied into industrial use. This includes serving as a component in district cooling systems, thermal power plants and data centres, becoming a link in desalinisation plants or in projects for artificially refilling aquifers and treating wastewater from mining operations.

Their multiplicity of use makes these lagoons much more than pretty value-added extras for developments and turns them into financial and ecological workhorses. It also explains why the company is already working in 52 countries with plans to execute 14,000 projects over the next fifteen years.

“The most satisfying aspect of my job is the appreciation I’ve developed for different cultures through my travels,” Morgan concludes. “Our projects aren’t handshake deals. They become the crown jewel, the centrepieces of the developments in which they are built.”

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