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The Blue Planet by 3xn: Get Consumed into the Deep

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on January 06, 2016 at 01:45 PM

An experience is complete only when it surrounds you in totality and invokes each of your senses to become aware of its offerings. As museums have evolved into experiential zones from being merely centres of display, so has their architecture undergone a dramatic metamorphosis. The design challenge now lies in creating structures and spaces that offer a maximal experience to its users, and Danish architectural firm 3xn seems to have undoubtedly risen to this challenge in their 2013 design for Denmark’s national aquarium, The Blue Planet. Copenhagen’s original aquarium, dating back to 1939, closed down in 2012, and its entire collection of displays, along with newer additions, was housed in this new premises located at Kastrup, on the island of Amager close to Copenhagen airport, which opened in 2013. 3xn, headed by Kim Herforth Nielsen won the design competition for their iconic proposal and went on to create what is today Europe’s largest aquarium.

© Courtesy of internet resources

Shaped like a giant whirlpool waiting to suck the visitor in, the Blue Planet is distinctly visible from any aircraft flying overhead to or from the nearby airport, perched as it is in what appears as a circular water- pool on a raised ground a few metres away from the sea. Crediting natural forms for their inspiration in designing this structure, the designers recall whirlpools, swirls of water and even shoals of fish as the visuals which generated its shape. Five major unequal wings fan out in swirls from a circular central core. The visitors enter from the outer periphery along the longest swirl and, as they move inward along its curvilinear path, are led directly into the circular, central lobby – just as one is instantly sucked into the centre of a whirlpool and into the deep upon entering it.

The exterior of this whirlpool is cladded with small diamond shaped aluminium panels, or shingles, which adapt easily to the organic form and also reflect the surroundings. Resultantly, the structure adopts the colours and images of its surroundings and changes itself in myriad ways in tune with colours of the sky, sea and ground at different times of the day.

Having been drawn by the whirlpool into the under-water world, the visitors arrive at the central lobby, which is the core from which they can navigate to various zones of the aquarium by choosing which river, sea or ocean they want to explore. Having this arrangement of parallel entry points to multiple choices of zones from this central space rather than in a sequence has the advantage of avoiding queues getting formed at these points. The various zones are introduced at their respective entrances using audio-visual media – sort of trailers of things to come – contributing to the totality of the experience.

A massive platform displaying the earth’s biodiversity, The Blue Planet is home to more than 450 species of marine life which includes sharks, sea lions, dwarf crocodiles, moray eels and barracudas, most of which have been transported here from different parts of the world, mostly from Asia. The largest fish here are the hammerhead sharks from Taiwan which each measure 4 m in length. The entire built space covers 10,000 sq m of area with 5000 sq m of outdoor area, holding 7 million litres of water.

The Blue Planet has a 52 ft under-water glass tunnel through which visitors can walk to appreciate a 360 degree view of exhibited aquatic life, in addition to more than 60 other variously sized aquariums. Sea and salt water bodies as also coral reefs, tropical lakes and a bird cliff have been recreated to display diverse aquatic biomes. This aquarium hosts around 700,000 visitors annually.

In consistence with its image as a beacon for sustaining biodiversity, the aquarium also boasts of some excellent energy optimisation tools employed in its design. In addition to having a highly insulating outer skin that reduces artificial air conditioning needs, its glazing is also low energy. All the salt water exhibits use water from the neighbouring sea, while the fresh water ones use harvested rain water. The cooling system also uses sea water, therefore reducing energy consumption by 80%!

Form being dictated by function, and taking inspiration from natural forms, in the architecture of museums is a trend that flourished from the time of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. The Blue Planet by 3xn decidedly exemplifies the same approach. But yet, it goes further than that by adopting a form from the very world it seeks to exhibit, a whirlpool that sucks its visitors into the depths of its watery world; a form that creates a breath-taking confluence of the land and sea, situated as it is where the twain meet.

The Blue Planet was conferred The International Architecture Award 2015 by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and the European Centre for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies.

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