The view of the aquarium looking east, resting half over the water and half on land.Photo by: Bruce Damonte
As one of the first of its kind, the Monterey Bay Aquarium departed from traditional aquarium design by focusing on the unique marine ecology of one habitat: the Monterey Bay and its shoreline. Built over land and water, it embraces views of the Bay, whose ecosystem it celebrates. The aquarium sits sensitively among the existing sardine processing plants and cannery buildings, utilizing the foundations—and rekindling the spirit—of the old Hovden Cannery.
The building is a light-filled ensemble of varied, well-proportioned spaces through which the visitor may chart their own course, rather than being locked into a linear path. The design strategy was to create an immersive experience that excites visitors’ senses and invokes a feeling of wonder. The aquarium presents more than 100 galleries and exhibits recreating the habitats of Monterey Bay. Some of the most spectacular habitats are constructed in massive acrylic-enclosed tanks, including a jewel jellyfish tank, a towering giant-kelp forest in a 335,000-gallon three-story tank, and a million-gallon shark tank. The experience is what amounts to a leisurely stroll through the ocean without getting wet.
Its popularity has led to several changes all designed by EHDD. In 1996, the 95,000 sq. ft., 1 million gallon Outer Bay Wing opened, introducing jellyfish, tuna, sharks, and other denizens of the offshore environment. In 2004, to accommodate increased visitors, a 200 ft., clear-span “Skybridge” joined the second floors of the Ocean’s Edge and Outer Bay Wings. The most recent of periodic renovations of the café and sea otter exhibit were completed in 2014.
Monterey Bay Aquarium pre-dates contemporary sustainability goals and programs such as LEED®. Nevertheless, its design included many sustainable design strategies and innovations that developed out of EHDD’s legacy of attention to environmental conditions and to project-specific opportunities and imperatives. These include: building reuse – specifically, the administration building, the seawall and the pump house; a sea water based heat pump system that provides heating and cooling for both the building and aquarium systems; and, the use of highly durable materials.
The technical requirements to support such environments are as impressive as the habitats themselves. The water is drawn directly from the bay itself, allowing the natural organisms that nourish the bay to be emitted into the exhibits during evening hours (during viewing hours the water is filtered for more clarity). Most remarkable perhaps of all its technical accomplishments is that the aquarium’s condition has remained virtually unchanged in over a quarter century. Recent testing of some of the concrete in the exhibits has indicated that it should conservatively withstand the corrosive saltwater environment for 490 years.
"A benchmark and role model for aquariums everywhere."
AIA California Council
American Institute of Architects
AIA Monterey Bay
Current Project, Waterfront Center Awards Program for Excellence on the Water
AIA California Council
ACI Northern California Chapter