Lissoni Architettura won the design ideas contest for a new aquarium and public waterfront park in New York with the design "AQUATRIUM". The competition was launched by organizers "Arch Out Loud" in January 2016 in a bid to receive proposals for an iconic, visionary new aquarium and park-project as a destination to revitalize the borough of Queens. Occupying a total area of approximately 40,000 sqm on the East River, the architectural concept includes a large water basin with the aquarium and a marine centre located on a submerged, two-level island. A boardwalk surrounds the basin like a floating ring, creating a pathway linking the city and a new beach-themed public park to the aquarium. The main attraction, the aquarium, has a retractable roof enabling it to become a living shell that opens up to the sky during the day to reveal the sea worlds and closes as darkness falls to take on a 'second life' as a planetarium. The aquarium itself would be formed of eight cylindrical transparent biodomes representing the four oceans and four seas, with the North and South Poles being expressed by an iceberg in the centre of the atrium. The winning design was selected from a total of 565 participants and 178 submissions from 40 countries and 6 continents and will be used by "Arch Out Loud" to promote the benefits that an aquarium would bring to Queens and New York as a new platform for cultural architecture and experimentation.
The project creates a dynamic system that interacts with its surroundings, offering multiple ways to experience the water world represented by eight triple-height transparent biomes: four Oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern) and four Seas (Caribbean, Mediterranean, Tasman and Red Sea), while the North and South Poles are expressed by a readily visible iceberg in the center of the Atrium. The main idea is to generate an environment whereby visitors feel that they themselves are entering the water to discover the beauty of the marine life on display; a living shell that opens to the sky during the day to reveal the sea worlds and which closes as darkness falls to take on a “second life” as a planetarium, protecting the arena and the biome domes within, like a shell protects the pearl. Having the water level define the starting point of the project, the site is excavated to become a spacious and innovative water basin, with the Aquarium and Marine Center forming a submerged two-level island accessed via a perimetral ramp that starts from the lobby entrance and leads visitors along the biome pathway. A sloped beachfront encloses the Parking area to form a panoramic public space, while a boardwalk surrounds the basin to become a floating ring connecting the two waterfronts and encompassing the Aquarium and its sliding roof.