Pierro Lissoni Wins Design Competition with Waterfront Aquarium in New York

Italian architect Piero Lissoni has won a speculative competition for a site on New York’s East River with his proposal for a submerged circular aquarium.

The open ideas competition organised by Arch Out Loud called for an aquarium and waterfront proposal at Long Island City’s 11th Street Basin – opposite Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park at the lower tip of Roosevelt Island.

Lissoni came top with his Aquatrium design, comprising two circular elements within an extended basin.

The Aquarium and Marine Center would be formed from a submerged two-level island that extends into the river.

A ramp modelled on the striations of seashells would begin at the lobby entrance and lead visitors along a pathway down below water level.

“Having the water level define the starting point of the project, the site is excavated to become a spacious and innovative water basin,” said Lissoni’s team.

Along the route, eight bubble-like “biomes” would host sealife from four oceans, Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern; and four seas, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Tasman and Red. In the centre, an iceberg represents the North and South Poles.

“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,” the team said.

At night, a grass-topped sliding roof would cover the circular space “like a shell protecting a pearl” and create a planetarium.

The site would be enclosed by a boardwalk that wraps around the aquarium to connect the two sides, while a sloped beachfront would enclose a parking area and form a public space with panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline.

“Our project creates a dynamic system that interacts with its surroundings, offering multiple ways to experience the water world,” said Lissoni’s team.

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