Updating the Aquarium
by Evan H. Shu, FAIA
The New England Aquarium in Boston has earned its reputation for leadership in both aquarium design and public education about our aquatic world. The institution is equally comfortable in its role as a leader in architecture and in urban design.
In 1969, the New England Aquarium provided a model that changed the course of modern aquarium design. Up to that point, traditional aquariums offered views of segregated species through small fish tank windows.
The New England Aquarium instead sought to entertain and educate by presenting engaging animals together in a more naturalistic setting. This approach caused a rebirth in what was otherwise becoming a staid and predictable museum experience.
Architecturally, the award-winning design by Cambridge Seven Associates was equally innovative in creating a spiraling visitor path that wound around a huge freestanding circular tank. The successful project spurred a massive redevelopment of an aging and decrepit Boston waterfront area. Many credit the waterfront revival as a key element in the urban renaissance of downtown in the early 1970s.
The New England Aquarium of 1969, by Cambridge Seven Architects, was the first of its kind.
Photo: © Steve Rosenthal, reprinted by special permission
The aquarium's west wing created a dramatic new entry and architectural landscape.
Photo: Paul Erickson, courtesy of New England Aquarium
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