Endless Blue – Week 25 – What Use is Shelter when Water Soaks Everything   3 comments


What Use is Shelter when Water Soaks Everything

An understandable preliminary idea would be “what use are buildings under the sea?”  Is not the purpose of shelter to protect from the elements?  Here on Elqua, the element of water surrounds everything in every direction, with its life-giving yet material-destroying wetness.  There is no rain to keep out when water takes the place of air, after all.  And since life has evolved to live in soaked, cold environment would such protection ever be invented.

While these points have some validity, the need for shelter is still imperative for the growth and maturation of society as well as the protection of the individual piscean.   It forms the foundation from which to build future generations upon, contributing to dependable and stable surroundings.

True, weather like rain cannot function in an environment of tangible liquid.  That does not mean that there are not other sources of danger and risk to life that need to be addressed.  The oceans of Elqua have strong, torrential currents that meander throughout the seas.  No matter how well adapted an individual may be to withstand the temperature, when currents sweep through at speeds rivaling just a category 1 hurricane a hapless piscean will be battered about like a fish out of water.

Regardless of this, just because a species is evolved to flourish in an environment does not mean it is impervious to the fluctuations of temperature that the daily solar cycle creates.  We are perfectly suited to survive in our air-filled world, but spend all day, unprotected, out in the blistering sun or the cold night and your body will suffer from heat stroke or fall into hypothermia.  Even in temperate climate zones, try to sleep out under the evening stars and see how long until you begin shivering without some form of shelter, even if it is just a sleeping bag in which to nestle.

If there is any lesson the Endless Blue teaches, it is that life is eat-or-be-eaten.  Thus the most indispensable utility of shelter is the protection from predators.  Not all aquatic creatures operate on a luminal cycle, and while the pisceans sleep the night away the nocturnal predators are on the prowl.  A sufficiently sturdy domicile alleviates the majority of the need to post guards against the indigenous creatures.  A shut door is often enough deterrent to keep strays from encroaching into our living areas, and this is just as true whether those creatures have legs or fins.

On a more sociological level, shelter provides barriers to others of our own kind.  It draws borders between what is mine and what is yours, and serves as an obstacle for those that wish to deprive me of my belongs without my consent.  Theft is simply an unenlightened extension of foraging, but instead of finding the boon out in the natural habitat, it is found in the possession of another piscean.

Conversely, shelter prevents our property from being lost.  Domestication of livestock was a major contribution to the civilization of the wild, and without an enclosed area to pen in beasts of burden those same animals would wander off in their own instinctive attempt to forage for survival.

Form and Function

The earliest shelter was that eked out between the coral reefs or the cracks in the rocky sea slopes by the primitive hunter/gatherer pisceans in prehistory.  It was only natural, as it was the same method used by all other animals in the seas.

Well, almost all others.  Many species evolved their own kinds of shelter in the form of carapaces or shells.  Chambered nautilus shells are perhaps the most visually memorable kind of self-produced shelter, where the animal excretes nacre to form a protective barrier around its body.  This shell is slightly larger than the creature itself, allowing it to withdraw into the shell, hiding its whole body from external threats.  As the animal grows, it adds onto the ever-widening open end of the shell, moves its growing mass into the wider section, and seals off a small portion of the opposite end with a wall that forms an anterior chamber — hence the name “chambered nautilus”.  The spiral formed by the circling chambers is a logarithmic spiral that follows the Fibonacci sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8…), and is responsible for the inherent strength of the shell.

Elquan Basic Building Design

Elquan Basic Building Design

Piscean buildings follow much of the same pattern.  The most simplistic of buildings is the dome — a single chamber.  There is little more sturdy than an arch.  Ancient structures in our own world still stand today based solely on the arch dynamic, without mortar to reinforce it.  A dome is simply an arch in 360 degrees.  Instead of adding floors to a building, the buoyant environment allows architects to build chambers in any direction they choose.  While the larger and larger chambers that a Fibonacci spiral entails would make a tower top heavy if built upward, putting the smallest chamber at the top, like a pinnacle, and winding downward is a solid design.

Another facet of underwater architecture is that there is no functional difference between a door and a window when the owner is capable of floating out either one.  Both are simply portals allowing ingress or egress from the building.  As such, portals can be positioned anywhere on a building — walls, floor, or ceiling — at any angle.  This can be used to add patterning to a spiraling design, as the chambers need not be placed at right angles to one another as we are accustomed to experiencing.

Building Blocks

Masonry is not an alien concept in the Known World, and buildings have been constructed and torn down again and again for centuries.  Unless the other races co-opted an existing domicile or somehow coerced the Chelon to build it for them, all buildings trace their history back to early masonry construction.  Segments of coral, shell, basalt, or any other material have been interlocked to provide a barrier between the world without and the contents within, and it all hinged on the tacky material used to glue those solid blocks together — mortar.

The key to construction has been the invention of hydraulic mortar.  Based on a mixture of ground lime, an aggregate of various corals, and the water present in abundance, mortar produces the permanent cementing of building parts into a lasting creation.  The lime and aggregate slurries are kept in separate containers until needed, at which time are mixed together either by hand (when small amount are needed) or in a mill-like device anchored to the rock or reef and driven by beasts of burden like dolphins.  The mix does not readily dilute in water due to the chemical properties created by the interaction of lime with calcium carbonate, and slowly sets despite the ever-present contact with water.  The curing time varies depending on the proportions of lime to coral and tempered by additional additives that add to the mortar’s strength or flexibility.

The invention of this hydraulic cement is often given to the Mer engineer Whitaker Canvass about 120 years previously, but Kouton masons have been utilizing the agent for much longer than that.  Whomever actually discovered the fixative properties of lime, it has proven integral in the growth of civic populations everywhere, save for the few pisceans that prefer to keep themselves closer to the element of water as their precursors were, like the nomadic Locanth or the Narwahl Orcans.

Building design is far more varied than simplistic racial variations.  Architecture is as much an expression of art as it is the deployment of technology.  While the dome is the prototypical basis for all branches of consequent architecture, from that point it diverges in any of a hundred different directions.  Every architect expresses their ideas differently, and when presented with an empty lot and the potential for construction, they will present some unexpected visions.

Modern Examples of Piscean Buildings:

An adventurer can many times be judged on the tools employed in his career, and nothing says experience like owning a Locanthic hut.  Locanthic tents are masterfully made portable shelters, constructed from the rib-bones of whales and other large aquatic vertebrates.  The ribs form a star pattern, with the nexus forming at the top of the tent, and treated hides stretched between the bones.  The hut is easily put together, with the rib points digging into the clay seabed, lashed to coral, or pitoned into rock for anchoring.

Chelon cities are marvels of organic construction, using xanthellea to comprise their buildings, drawing out the coral and knitting it together in vast, interconnected caverns.    Completely mortar-less, the coral walls and ceiling are a solid formation that takes advantage of the coral’s natural properties.  It has allowed the race to push the envelop of architecture and produce some of the most intricate and expansive buildings in the Known World.

Those few privileged enough to see a Lumulan settlement tell tales of their opaque glass buildings constructed of volcanic basalt quarried from the thermal vents that proliferate the region.

3 responses to “Endless Blue – Week 25 – What Use is Shelter when Water Soaks Everything

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  1. A perfect real-life example of how the nautilus aesthetic might look:


  2. Pingback: Endless Blue – Week 55 – Vitruvian Mer | Endless Blue

  3. Pingback: Endless Blue – Week 90.5 – Jetsam: Civilization and the Vastness | Endless Blue

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