Whale Watching

Whale Watching

The blue addition (right) connects to the original building (left).
Courtesy EHDD

Long Beach’s wave-shaped Aquarium of the Pacific, which opened in 1998, is about to get its largest addition to date. Designed by San Francisco-based EHDD, which worked on the original aquarium with HOK, the 23,000-square-foot facility would be dedicated to oceanic preservation and to whales and other sea creatures that are too large to be kept in captivity. The design of the two-story building, known as Pacific Visions, contains features to share that majesty, such as a large-format, 320-seat movie theater with a 30-foot-tall screen, and changing, technology-rich, immersive exhibits and installations. It also has a flexible layout capable of hosting exhibits of sea life, including microscopic organisms.

View of the enlarged complex from the Long Beach waterfront.

The design also evokes the ocean animals’ “awe-inspiring form,” as project manager Ursula Currie put it. “We want it to take your breath away,” she said. Evoking sunlight rippling through water, the building is composed of sensuous curves, much like one of these aquatic creatures, while its skin—a luminous rainscreen made of a composite of various-shaped, acid-etched, colored, and paned glass—changes appearance depending on daylight conditions. The bird-safe, faceted rainscreen attaches to the building via a carrier frame system and a steel superstructure. It might also serve as a backdrop for visual projections during night events. “We did a lot of trial and error with a lot of glass mock-ups to get the final composition,” said Currie. “It should create a different message for different people.”

Pamela Burton & Company is leading the landscape design. The project, which is the centerpiece of the aquarium’s campus master plan, is halfway through construction documents and is set to open in 2017. The aquarium has a collection of more than 11,000 animals, and receives more than 1.5 million visitors a year. It will remain operational during construction.