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New England Aquarium

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1969; 1973; 1979; Cambridge Seven Associates; 1998 master plan and phase 1, Schwartz/Silver Architects; IMAX Theater and phase 2, E. Verner Johnson; east wing and phase 3, EADD TAMS. 250 Atlantic Ave.
  • New England Aquarium (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)

On part of the site of Central Wharf (see WF21), an almost quarter-mile-long brick building (1816–1817), is a straightforward concrete box that has been dubbed a “parking garage for flying fish,” in response to the presence of the aquarium's logo on the roof. The aquarium's original wall and pier articulation—a distant reminder of the warehouse structures it replaced—has been enhanced by flamboyant extensions. The “box” of 1969 has been completely camouflaged. In lieu of a concrete rectangular solid, the entrance is now composed of a mass of angular projectiles (Frank Gehry without the curves?). Complexity rather than clarity is the key, reinforced by the massive IMAX addition to the south. Whether approached from land or sea or as seen from within the interior lobby, the steel shingles of the additions' skin reflect changing atmospheric states. New goals—promoting an awareness of the interrelation of the human environment and its surrounding waters—have prompted the current revision.

However, the New England Aquarium's exterior hardly prepares one for the aquatic wonders within. A huge forty-foot-diameter tank at the center forms the core of a spiral ramp that winds through the four-story space. Like the ascent of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, here, in place of art, visitors are treated to a dazzling maritime display of a fantastic variety of aquatic denizens on display.

Lacking specific boundaries, the new aquarium may be interpreted as a metaphorical connection between land, sea, and sky. Beyond a doubt, the teams involved have created a landmark along the waterfront.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "New England Aquarium", [Boston, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 82-83.

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