A Survey of Awesome Aquarium Architecture

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As science fiction author and prophet of the space age Arthur C. Clarke once said, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.” Society’s stewardship of all things aquatic comes in the form of an exceedingly fascinating, niche building typology: the aquarium. After seeing the first photos of an absolutely stunning design in Copenhagen inspired by a swirling whirlpool, we wanted to explore what other wondrous, underwater experiences await around the world. From the largest aquarium in Europe to Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid’s breathtaking proposal inspired by a starfish, click through to check out some of the most awe-inspiring aquariums of today, including three in progress projects to get you excited about what’s in store for the future of maritime design.

The Blue Planet by 3XN – Copenhagen, Denmark

Images via dezeen

Set to open in this spring, the Blue Planet was designed to mimic the swirling shape of a whirlpool to convey a story about being carried under water into an unknown world full of fascinating experiences — aka exhibitions. One notable feature: a glass ceiling-topped foyer that lets you feel as if you’re completely submerged.

Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences by Renzo Piano – San Francisco, California

Images via SYSTEMS; Green Space Today; SanFrancisco

A stunning blend of old and new, the aquarium is the cornerstone of this inspiring educational complex in the heart of San Francisco’s lush Golden Gate Park. Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano, the building features an amazing 2.5-acre green roof that you can visit after you’ve toured the dark waters below. Good to know: The Academy provides secure bicycle parking at the front and back entrances, as well as an electric car recharging station at the loading dock.

The Aquarium of Genoa by Renzo Piano – Genoa, Italy

Images via: Turism-360; Travel for Passion

Piano sure has a thing for biospheres. Before he’d built the California Academy of Science’s living rainforest in a four-story indoor version, he’d included a glass ball next to this Genovese aquarium he designed to house tropical plants, butterflies, iguanas, and other small animals in a re-creation of their natural habitat. The aquarium is the largest in Italy, and the second largest in Europe.

L’Oceanogràfic by Felix Candela – Valencia, Spain

Image via Okeanos

A network of glass tunnels lets you experience firsthand what it’s like to scuttle along the bottom of the ocean floor at Europe’s largest aquarium. It also boasts a greenhouse garden, pelicans, ducks, swans, storks, seals, and beluga. A diverse aquatic zoo, if you will.

Mora River Aquarium by Promontorio Architecture – Mora, Portugal

Images via Arquestilo

Based on the banks of the Mora River in the Alentejo region of Portugal, this aquarium designed by Promontorio Architecture pays homage to the traditional white-washed barns that can be found throughout the area.

Oceanário de Lisboa by Peter Chermeyeff – Lisbon, Portugal

Images via HikeNow; diwan

The largest indoor aquarium in Europe, the Oceanarium houses four different habitats: the North Atlantic rocky coast, the Antarctic coastal line, the Temperate Pacific kelp forests, and the Tropical Indian coral reefs. The main attraction? A large Sunfish aka Mola Mola. They’re one of the few aquariums in the world to house the high maintenance creature.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium – Monterey, California

Images via Wired; Ed Bierman

Occupying the site of an old sardine cannery, this aquarium is devoted solely to the rich marine life indigenous to its own stretch of the Pacific coast (with the exception of some South African blackfooted penguins currently in residence). Founded in 1984, it was in the vanguard of the new generation of exhibition spaces emphasizing conservation, education, and research. Popular exhibits include a kelp forest, sea otters, and the stunning giant Jellies.

Museum of the Mediterranean by Zaha Hadid – Reggio Calabria, Italy

Images via e-architect

Inspired by the organic shapes of a starfish, the Museum of Mediterranean History complex will house exhibition spaces, restoration facilities, an archive, a library, and an aquarium. Also included: a gym, local craft laboratories, shops, and a cinema.

Silvertown Aquarium by Terry Farrell Architects – London, England

Images via e-architect

The first world-class conservation-led public aquarium will be split into four exhibition spaces: the UK, India, the Red Sea, and the South Pacific, which are positioned in a building that houses a microcosm of each natural habitat, including the land, water, vegetation, air, and clouds characteristic of each. Parallel with the design process, a conservation and research strategy is being developed to reflect the major conservation issues challenging the aquatic world today.

Batumi Aquarium by Henning Larsen Architects – Batumi Beach, Georgia

Images via ARTHITECTURAL

Inspired by the characteristic pebbles of the Batumi beach, the building is meant to stand out as an iconic rock formation visible from both land and sea. The formation constitutes four self-supporting exhibition areas with each stone representing a unique marine biotope, and a more interactive exhibition space for teaching and “edutainment. Play, eat, shop and learn at this modern, entertaining aquarium.