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Best Thing Ever: An ‘Underwater’ Carousel For Architecture Nerds

Lamar Anderson Lamar Anderson

Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park lost the popular New York Aquarium to Coney Island decades ago, but now the Battery Park Conservancy is bringing a touch of the nautical—and the carnivalesque—to the southern tip of Manhattan. Yesterday WXY architecture + design put the finishing touches on the structure of SeaGlass, a new undersea-themed carousel, which will open this fall. “The park hadn’t had cutting-edge design in a long time,” says WXY principal Claire Weisz, so the architects decided to make-over the traditional ponies-on-sticks children’s ride for the 21st century. “We said, What if you could re-conceive a carousel so it was more like an aquarium, more of an underwater ride?” says Weisz. “Instead of trying to replicate it feeling like a horse, you could actually make it feel like you were diving underwater.”

Instead of a single turntable that moves in one direction, SeaGlass uses three turntables that spin inside a larger disc. The ride’s 30 iridescent glass sea creatures, designed by George Tsypin Opera Factory, also bob up and down. Altogether, SeaGlass has 18 axes of movement, compared with just two in a traditional carousel. “So you’re able to create a feeling like you’re swimming,” says Weisz. “There’s a kind of wiggle as the whole thing goes around.” With this range of movement (plus changes in lighting and video projections), the carousel can produce lots of different underwater sensations. “It could feel like you’re floating up or dropping down, or moving with a group that’s right beside you, so it feels like a school of fish,” adds Weisz.

The architects conceived the structure to recall a chambered nautilus—which, beyond the obvious aquatic associations, gives architecture buffs a chance to geek out. The nautilus shell is one of Earth’s many examples of naturally occurring mathematical concepts, as Weisz explained in a recent interview with the Battery Conservancy News. “Its spiral shell comes very close to being a Fibonacci Series, which was thought [of]—especially by architects from the Renaissance until Mies Van der Rohe—as a way to achieve perfect proportions,” she said. “So if you draw a series of golden mean rectangles and connect them, you will get a spiral that is remarkably close to the chambered nautilus and consequently the shell of SeaGlass.”

Photos courtesy of WXY architecture + urban design