The $53-million Pacific Visions expansion project at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach reached a major milestone on October 17, as the final panel of glass was placed on its rolling, wave-like façade.

Designed by San Francisco-based architecture and design firm EHDD, the new 29,000-sq-ft, two- story wing represents the first major expansion by the Aquarium and will serve as a focal point for the institution, integrating arts and sciences, while offering visitors innovative ways to better understand the connection between humans, the oceans and the earth.

“Through research, experimentation and testing, we developed a biomorphic structure that evokes the fluidity of the seas, both in terms of its form and material expression,” said Quyen Luong, EHDD design architect for Pacific Visions at the glass installation ceremony. “The form itself derives from the rich biodiversity of the Pacific Ocean, referencing both microscopic live forms and the massive whales. In working with [glass façade engineer] Buro Happold that organic form got rationalized to 800 unique [glass] panels that were fastened around the steel structure.”

Complementing the Aquarium’s existing building, also designed by EHDD, the project’s façade responds to different daylight and weather conditions with varying colors to mirror the effect of sun rays bouncing on the ocean’s surface. The façade, which doubles as a ventilated rain screen, is made up of 839 colored, light-diffusing glass panels weighing between 200 and 800 pounds and covering an area of 18,000 sq-ft. The innermost layer incorporates a subtle reflective finish, the middle layer is tinted blue, and the outer layer is made of low-iron, acid-etched glass, which eliminates direct reflection of the trees and sky to reduce the incidence of bird strikes.

Each panel is uniquely sized with the help of Catia and Revit software to accommodate the curves and angles of the building’s form. They were fabricated by Pulp Studio in Gardena, CA, while the glass cladding system and secondary support steel was designed, fabricated, and installed by Woodbridge Glass and Sentech Architectural Systems. Clark Construction is serving as general contractor on the project.

Luong said the interplay between form and material on the façade results in an “ever-shifting experience” where a visitor can observe a single color change as they move around the site at different times of day.

Duncan Ballash, president of EHDD, told me it required a lot of mock-ups, glazing assemblies, and experimentation to get the right effect on the glass so it would not have any reflections and to give it “some depth and luminosity and the feeling of the ocean.”

Pacific Visions will house a state-of-the-art immersive theater with a 130 ft-wide by 32-ft-tall screen, curved in a 180-degree arc and a tilting 30-ft-diameter floor projection disc to immerse visitors in a virtual ocean environment. Other project features include expanded special exhibition and art galleries, and additional space for live animal exhibits, and a revitalized front plaza and exhibition hall. Visitors will enter the new wing though the Pacific Visions art gallery and proceed to an area showcasing a 26-ft- wide by 8-ft-tall media wall.  

Installation of the panels began in July 2018. At the October 17 event to place the final section, crews for Woodbridge Glass lifted it by hand from boom lifts and secured it in place by hanging the carrier frame on 4 brackets attached to the secondary support steel and engaging a seismic clip.

The expansion is pursuing a rating of 2 Green Globes from the Green Building Initiative, which is equivalent to LEED Silver. Officials say the project is designed to achieve 24 percent reduction in energy compared to similar buildings and will produce its own energy through a clean energy fuel cell system, rather than drawing electricity from the local grid. Sustainability features include efficient heating and cooling systems, low-flow fixtures in the restrooms, bird-friendly glass, recycling of construction waste, LED lighting, and environmentally friendly paints, carpets, adhesives, and sealants for clean indoor air quality. 

After breaking ground in February 2017, the project is now about 96 percent complete, with a grand opening set for spring 2019.