Aquarium of the Pacific

Long Beach, CA, USA

The Aquarium of the Pacific has expanded its facilities with the construction of a 29,000ft2 new wing that includes a state-of-the-art immersive theater, expanded exhibition and art galleries, and additional space for live animal exhibits.

Organic and biomorphic in design, the extension is clad in a ventilated rainscreen consisting of over 800 triple-layered glass panels. These panels are each made of a different material with varying levels of reflectivity. The exterior of the aquarium has been conceived to resemble the effect of sunlight traveling through water.


Buro Happold worked in conjunction with the architect to realize this complex glass facade. Given its location, the structure had to be strong enough to endure high levels of seismic activity and powerful coastal winds, while maintaining an impression of light and effortless fluidity.

Portrait view at sunset of the complex glass facade of the Long Beach Aquarium, CA, USA
Evoking both a wave and a whale, the new biomorphic addition to the aquarium will feature 800 light-diffusing glass panels, which respond to daylight and climatic conditions. Image: Tom Bonner Photography


To achieve this, our facade engineers undertook meticulous design development to ensure the unique combination of stresses imposed on the extension could be withstood, without compromising its appearance. We subsequently incorporated several stability measures into our design to ensure its strength and durability.

For example, the glass panels of the outer shell of the facade are not sealed together, affording greater flexibility of movement and load resistance. Because this means it isn’t weathertight, we incorporated an additional waterproof layer between the interior of this glass structure and the exterior of the building beneath. This is invisible from both outside and inside the new extension so as not to detract from its aesthetic appeal.

Complex glass facade of the Long Beach Aquarium, CA, USA
Image: Tom Bonner Photography


The input of our team on this project has enabled our client’s vision of a striking, sinuous facade to be fulfilled. The result is a structure that appears to flow like a wave out from the main building, creating a beautiful and memorable first impression for visitors.

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