Some of my fondest memories as a child were family trips from home in Rhode Island down to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. A fan of fantasy fiction, beluga whales always seemed to be more out of a fairy tale than real life. Over the years, I’ve made my way to world-class aquariums in Osaka, Baltimore, Monterey, Atlanta, and Medellin. And while I often feel conflicted about the creatures trapped behind the glass, I also always appreciate the educational value that comes along with the wonder they inspire.
That love of aquariums is why I was excited to experience the massive multi-million dollar expansion of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, which will open to the public on May 24, 2019. Promising to be a game-changer in how aquariums operate in an era in which aquatic life around the planet is under assault, the new wing of this already-popular destination seeks to use technology, not tanks filled with exotic creatures, to inspire.
It’s “not about bigger tanks for bigger animals,” the aquarium’s president and CEO, Dr. Jerry R Schubel, declared in his opening remarks. Instead, the $53 million, 29,000-square-feet new wing is full of social media-friendly oceanic art, a cinema with a 130-feet curved screen, and a large exhibitions gallery that also houses technological interactives. The exterior dramatically changes the aesthetic of the aquarium (previously a pleasant but unremarkable and very 90s complex) with a Warheads-blue-raspberry undulating bit of blobitecture (from the same firm, EHDD, from San Francisco). I didn’t fully appreciate its effect on the man-made inner harbor of Long Beach (also home to the Queen Mary) until returning from a harbor cruise and seeing its shiny blue curves giving the harbor a bit of pop.