More than a century ago, Coney Island was the main recreational outlet for New York City residents. A place of wonder, the Coney Island boardwalk mediated the contrast between the natural landscape of the crowded ocean-side beach and the attraction of honky-tonk amusements. The luster of Coney Island faded years ago, but the City of New York is now intentionally working to revive it. This project, “Ocean Wonders: Shark!” activates the edge between the New York Aquarium and the Coney Island boardwalk, reconnecting New Yorkers with their natural environment.
The form of the building itself is derived from the functions within, its fluid geometry resembling landforms carved by water. Integral to the design is a spiral ramp that unveils magnificent ocean views and leads visitors to a roof deck. From the deck, they encounter more ocean vistas and an interactive gathering space with a sculptural water-play area and a touch tank featuring local species. The ramp is a unifying element of the building that connects the design experience from the inside to the outside of the aquarium.
The larger architectural idea, in creating a building to interpret the wonders of the ocean, is to make a structure that acts aquatic, and has a skin that is alive and visually magnetic. The building uses what is free and intrinsic to the site—wind, sunlight, and salt air—to enchant visitors with an ever-changing façade that is fluid and shimmering. It will sparkle in the day and glow at night. The façade is dynamic, powered by the slightest ocean breeze, rippling and swelling like the surface of the ocean and shimmering like schools of fish, yet never appearing the same from one moment to the next.
From within the New York Aquarium, visitors will first experience a new way to look at and understand sharks. Visitors will learn about the plight of sharks and discover ways they can help sustain them. After exploring the interior exhibits, visitors will have the opportunity to take the gently sloping ramp around the building, arriving on the roof where educational and entertainment opportunities await them, with sweeping views of the beach and ocean as a backdrop.
By focusing on stories about local ecology, the journey to the rooftop is a continuation of the exhibit experience that takes visitors through the wild nature of Coney Island. The ramp becomes more than just circulation – it is a gathering place to see the ocean and learn more about it. Clad in a shimmering spiral, the ramp is a sparkling gesture that rises from the plaza side and sails out over the boardwalk. It wraps around the classroom and culminates as a whorl of a shell on top of the classroom.
This form—a wave, a nautilus shell, a watery current always in motion—will be the billboard that distinguishes the structure. It is bold enough to draw visitors in, while at the same time, it reflects the mission and excitement of the New York Aquarium. It is theatrical and magical enough to fit into the context of the Coney Island of our imagination. This big gesture will certainly transport the aquarium from being simply a building to becoming an enthusiastic celebration of marine life and the ocean.
On the beach side, the Ocean Wonders building opens to the boardwalk with small exhibit spaces in alcoves carved out of the aquarium. These viewing experiences give boardwalk visitors a sense of the excitement waiting within the aquarium. Ocean-side food service and outdoor seating will provide a much needed refreshment stop along the boardwalk by creating places where visitors can pause and enjoy the ocean experience. Its festive nature will lure the public from the boardwalk and beach, resulting in a vibrant new public gathering space.
Although the Ocean Wonders: Shark! exhibit structure is far from the conventional building projects that LEED standards address, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the City of New York have set a minimum goal of LEED Silver certification. The design team is working to achieve this goal within the unique aquarium system requirements. These include ocean-side water quality and energy management within visitor spaces and aquatic life support systems.Location: New York, USA
Architect: The Portico Group