New York City is redeveloping Coney Island, reviving its historic identity as a world famous amusement and recreation destination. The recently completed redevelopment master plan identifies several Coney Island 'Icons' as key elements in the redevelopment with two of these icons, the Parachute Jump and the New York Aquarium, anchoring the two ends of the Coney Island Boardwalk. Because of the building¹s location on the boardwalk, the Coney Island development Corporation and the New York Economic Development Corporation required that the Aquarium hire a design firm to redesign the shark exhibit building to be the iconic marker for the aquarium on the boardwalk. Slade Architecture was selected from a shortlist RFP process.

Formally, the design was created with the fundamental goal of linking the aquarium exhibit experience visually with the boardwalk and beach.  In our opinion, this was an important and appropriate linkage: marine exhibit and ocean. As conceived by the client and the exhibit designer, the exhibit is a scripted, narrative experience. The public boardwalk and beach form a completely unscripted field of activity. We conceived of the design as an intertwining of scripted and unscripted spaces.

Unscripted areas, including the open boardwalk and abstract dune sculpture, offer iconic community spaces.  In contrast, areas leading into and through the exhibit were scripted and choreographed throughout. Like a wooden dune emerging from the boardwalk, the building becomes a gathering place; merging beach and boardwalk, manmade and natural. A perforated metal building skin creates a diaphanous boundary between the exhibit spaces, the boardwalk, and the aquarium, allowing interaction between these spaces.

The design expands the exhibit to include a sea lion exhibit and an aviary. The sea lion tank extends from the rooftop exhibit down to the boardwalk, providing public viewing areas on the boardwalk. The rooftop sea lion exhibit provides a sculpted viewing platform that peers back over the boardwalk. The result is a marriage of architecture and exhibit, offering temporary habitats for humans and animals, while at the same time illustrating environmentally friendly and energy efficient design.