Long Beach, California

A new aquarium was to be built as part of a larger commercial waterfront development in Long Beach. As the artist for the project I was interested in how to add an additional conceptual layer to the overall plan.  Would it be possible for an artist to function in the context of this kind of commercial development at all engaging people in something other than retail and entertainment in the public space? Could the activities of the aquarium be extended outside the building itself? Using the abstract language of map making the project focuses on the potential for a sensory, as well as educational experience of the natural environment. It leads viewers through a step by step consideration of the environment around them,  each step moving up in scale until by implication the connection to the issues of a larger context becomes obvious.

Inside the Aquarium embedded in the floor was to be a map of the Pacific basin.  Moving out into the plaza in front of the building there is a large scale inhabitable three dimensional mapping of a coastal edge.  Shallow channels of water separate one ‘piece of land’ from the next; some are hard surfaced, others planted.  Water from this area flows into narrow recessed strips in a walkway that runs through the whole semi-circular promenade.  Cast map fragments of various parts of the Pacific are embedded in this walk and outlined by the narrow water channels.  This walkway leads to the end of the site opposite from the commercial development.  Here, a large enclosed area of water is configured as a full scale three dimensional diagram of an inter-tidal zone;  the most basic character of the ocean, its tidal cycle, is made visible here.  At high tide it becomes a shallow enclosure of water; at low tide it is a field of elevated fragments of mirror. The area literally appears and disappears with the fluctuation of the tide – ‘now you see it, now you don’t’.  On a closer examination the pieces of mirror are actually a series of constructed barnacle encrusted tide pools.  An overlook gives a view of the whole area revealing a band of rock rip-rap that separates the enclosure from the bay; a series of stepped trays partially covered by a steel grate platform below the overlook allows a close look at a variety of intertidal fauna such as mussels, anemone and starfish.  Walkways supported over the water lead out across the tidal zone to four large stepped terraces, each planted with a different coastal plant type.  The walkway finally goes through an area of tall beach grass which continues to an adjacent band of sand and grass.

As a visitor moves through this project, the map of the place steps up in size.  When finally exploring this crescent shaped area between the land and water one is able to see the elements that make up a tidal zone called out separately.  The project demonstrates a functional conjunction between the built and natural environments making tangible links between the ocean and what is being shown inside the aquarium.

Proposal developed with Laurie Olin, Landscape Architect.