Seattle Aquarium Ocean Pavilion

Seattle, Washington

Project Size:

50,000 square feet

Project Status:

Anticipated Completion 2023

LEED Status:

Targeting LEED New Construction Gold


Civic Design, Urban Design

Associate Architect:

Mithun Partners

The new Ocean Pavilion will be a unique facility, integrating a complex building program into Seattle’s dynamic urban context. Guided by Seattle Aquarium’s mission to inspire conservation of the marine environment, the new facility establishes the context for an ocean ethic, focusing on global stories like climate change and ocean acidification. Exhibits rooted in the ecosystem of the Coral Triangle and Indo-Pacific region highlight the interconnectivity of the ocean with local waters, extending the framework of “community” to include the marine environment and inspiring visitors to meaningfully connect the welfare of the Puget Sound to the greater Pacific Ocean.

Site and Program
The approximately 50,000-square-foot Pavilion will be sited adjacent to the existing Seattle Aquarium at the intersection of pedestrian linkages between the new Seattle Waterfront, downtown and historic Pike Place Market. A series of pathways—including the broad promenade of the Overlook Walk and Bay Steps—and vertical connections between multiple levels of public plazas unite the activity of the waterfront with the bustling heart of downtown Seattle, featuring successive views to the Puget Sound and beyond. Inside the Pavilion, a 325,000 gallon warm-water tank will house sharks, rays and other larger species. Smaller "jewel" tanks and dynamic exhibits will incorporate new technologies to collectively communicate the Pavilion’s ocean ethic conservation story. An open gathering and viewing space adjacent to the large tank will provide flexible space capable of hosting special events for approximately 200 people. The program also includes gathering spaces for smaller groups participating in hands-on education activities and guided interpretation.

The Ocean Pavilion design integrates the public realm and aquarium exhibit experiences in an extroverted gesture to public engagement. The building is organized with an urban edge along the realigned Elliott Way, highlighting the back of house and support systems of the Pavilion and relating these technical operations to the other mixed light industrial and commercial activities of the surrounding neighborhood. The Pavilion’s west side is a gesture to the waterfront, with sweeping geometries and a series of views providing connection to the Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean beyond. Strategically placed glazing provides a variety of opportunities for the public to see into the Pavilion’s interior and engage with the activities of the Aquarium, including an iconic oculus—the “Sharkulus”—offering views into the main exhibit from both the plaza level and rooftop terrace.

The Ocean Pavilion is an armature that holds immersive living exhibits, transportive ecological experiences, back-of-house elements, theatrical spaces, hands-on-exploration, and well placed views of the surrounding landscape and urban waterfront.  Exhibits within the Pavilion are composed of four primary experiential zones. “The Hub” reveals the Pavilion’s multi-level experience and hosts changing multimedia exhibits, as well as community events and public programs. “The Archipelago” supports a live coral and mangrove habitat, highlighting the importance of biodiversity. “Meet The Ocean” introduces visitors to the shared and changing waters of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating back of house research and animal care areas. “The Web”—featuring sharks and rays—underscores the importance of predators in a healthy marine ecosystem, taking guests deep into the habitats of the Pacific Rim. Circulation pathways winding through the Pavilion’s levels offer a variety of above- and below-water views of exhibits, as well as views to the Aquarium Plaza and waterfront. Within this context, the Ocean Pavilion design moves away from the traditional “theater of ecosystems” model of aquarium design, instead acknowledging the interplay between human life and ocean life, and offering a working model of a thriving human culture that fosters a thriving marine ecology.