Audubon Aquarium of the Americas Elevates the Level of Their Exhibits Through Environmental Design
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas was installing a new, 13,000 gallon shark touchpool. This touchpool was to become a focal point that would break down negative stereotypes of sharks while encouraging understanding and conservation. With a major gathering of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) rapidly approaching, a gala of more than 3,000 top leaders and conservationists, the designed needed to match the grand scale of the touchpool.
Working around the clock on a tight timeline, we created eye-catching graphics, interpretives, and interactives that transport visitors to an underwater world teeming with wildlife. On time and on budget, this project is an example of interactive environment and exhibit design that inspires empathy and raises awareness surrounding the goals & mission of the Audubon Aquarium.
THE NEED: To outfit the new Shark Discovery touchpool exhibit with visual and interactive displays. THE GOAL: To attract, engage, and educate visitors via interaction and visual design.
“It means a lot to us, your coworkers”
I was really impressed at your ability to get the project done not only well, but also inside a deadline. You know, it means a lot to us. The people you’re working side-by-side on the project. Just know that we really appreiciated your hard work. – JIM CORTINA, CORTINA PRODUCTIONS
Opportunity & Challenge
The Shark Discovery space was about to be home to a new shark and ray touchpool, six times the size of their current touchpool. In order to create a dynamic, bright, and colorful space, a centerpiece of the aquarium, they needed to cover large empty walls with captivating graphics, interpretive signage, and interactive digital touchscreens to inform, instruct, and educate visitors on animal identification and how to safely interact with them.
With just 3 months to prepare for the AZA gala, we had limited time to update the space. To meet the project deadline, we worked late nights and early mornings around visitor hours (not to mention sleeping hours for the animals!). We made it happen by project managing contractors, who were all simultaneously working on the project, while coordinating with the aquarium staff to ensure the project was completed on time and to their utmost satisfaction.
“A truly remarkable transformation”
You guys really pulled it off. It’s amazing what some mirrors and wall coverings did for our Gulf of Mexico exhibit… truly a remarkable transformation! – KEVIN CHENEVERT, AUDUBON NATURE INSTITUTE
For the Shark Discovery exhibit, creating a multi-medium experience through printed murals, interpretive signage, digital screens, and the aquarium itself was key. The signage and murals needed to entice visitors to interact with the touchpool, an anchoring exhibit on the second floor of the aquarium. On the large, curved walls on either side of the tank, we wanted the visitor’s perspective to be from underwater on the ocean floor, looking towards the surface. To do so we’d create a photorealistic 916 square foot panoramic scene using the environment and species found in the tank. The composite image exactly matched the color of the sand, water, and animals already within the tank. The sides of the tank would also be wrapped in graphics to create a seamless transition from walls to tank, effectively removing the tank walls, beckoning visitors to peer in. Visitors could also search the wraps to discover species hidden within the design.
Laid over the wall graphics, we constructed interpretive signage and 5 digital touchscreen displays to instruct visitors on tank etiquette. Hand painted images of each species were printed to scale on contour cut acrylic, mounted on standoffs. Spot lighting was also added to create a sparkling effect. Including the 60 ft LED screen mounted above the tank, cumulatively the exhibit becomes a journey of exploration, where movement and light from the LED screen emanate outwards into the touchpool and spill out onto the adjacent walls.
We worked diligently with internal teams and outside vendors to produce a new centerpiece of the aquarium worthy of that title.
- Designed 2 large murals to flank the 60 foot touchpool and LED screen
- Printed and installed murals which ended up being around 916 square feet
- Designed and installed 10 life-size species identification signs printed on acrylic
- Had 10 species illustrations created by a professional illustrator to match the species illustrations throughout the aquarium
- 4 wooden species themed TV surrounds
- Designed background images for the photo Magic Memories display
- Coordinated with internal teams & vendors to ensure a seamless product
What we learned
Scale is extremely important when creating an immersive environment. In the case of the open floorplan and expansive walls in the Shark Discovery area using negative space in the wrap design was crucial in order to replicate the vastness of our underwater world. With a limited amount of fish species in the wrap, it made the wrap more interesting, not less. While waiting in line, visitors find and identify the species. The association of the animals in their natural environment with what they are about to experience at the touchpool sets a tone of excitement and heightens curiosity.
Let’s support each other
We wholeheartedly believe in supporting the conservation of our oceans. You can help by donating time and money so that the Audubon Nature Institute can continue to provide top notch education programs, new exhibits, and maintenance of its beautiful facilities and parks.