San Francisco-based architects EHDD and the Aquarium of the Pacific broke ground today on a 29,000-square-foot expansion of the aquarium’s existing, portside facilities in Long Beach, California.

The so-called Pacific Visions expansion will bring a new two-story wing to the aquarium complex that includes a state-of-the-art immersive theater, expanded exhibition and art galleries, and additional space for live animal exhibits. The expansion will also feature an updated front entry pavilion as well as a new exhibition hall for installations, performances, and cultural programming.

The effort represents the largest expansion to the aquarium since its founding in 1998. The original structure was built by EHDD and the Los Angeles office of architecture firm HOK and is defined by its series of wave-shaped roof planes supported by slender columns spanned with tall sheets of glass.

In a press release for the project, EHDD Design Principal Marc L’Italien said, “It’s not often that we have the opportunity to expand upon a building that we have designed before. The new building flows with the original building but it’s also a counterpoint to it.”

View of new art gallery spaces. (Courtesy EHDD)

View of new art gallery spaces. (Courtesy EHDD)

The new addition takes the wavy motify further. EHDD has proposed a “biomorphic design” inspired by the water-based forms of the original structure that, through bulbous undulations and variegated exterior cladding, mimics the effect of sunlight traveling through water. The structure’s rippled exterior is clad in a ventilated rainscreen made up of 800 triple-layer laminated glass assembly panels. Each layer in the assembly—the inner-most layer is slightly reflective, the central layer is tinted blue, and the exterior layer is acid-etched and made of low-iron glass—will work together to catch, reflect, and treat light in a dynamic manner.

The panel assemblies–which are supported by an aluminum frame—have also been designed to minimize the appearance of joints. The outer surface of the 18,000-square-foot exterior is acid-treated to minimize the direct reflection of nearby trees and sky so that birds will not be confused. L’Italien described the facade in terms of its temporal qualities, saying, “there is depth and mystery to the form and to the glass skin. Depending on the time of day and where you’re viewing the building from, it will appear differently to everyone, forever changing, just like the oceans that inspired it.”

The $53 million expansion, due to be completed in 2018, comes as the second and final phase of the institution’s Campus Master Plan from 2005. The plan aims to develop the aquarium’s role in the community as a public gathering place where scientists, policy makers, and the public can “celebrate the inhabitants and ecosystems of the Pacific Ocean and explore today’s most important environmental issues.”

Related Stories