Once the fishes are dead or bought, this aquarium will have one less exhibit. Aquariums give us a chance to admire sea creatures in their natural environment, a world inaccessible to most. However, as the apex predator of the planet, we demand control of every aspect of our living environment.
This aquarium demystifies the underwater world by revealing the candid economical relationship we have with aquatic animals. Humans have infiltrated and commodified everything in the sea. After its initial installation, this is a journey through a miniature economy that confronts ourselves with an uncomfortable truth of our impact on earth.
The Aquarium is hidden from plain sight, under a shallow artificial pool. A minimal glass canopy above ground demarcates the entrance to the underground world. From a distance, a Marine Café floats atop at the edge of the site. Hidden behind a vibrant farmer’s market and the smell of fresh produce from the sea, a thin slab of light-coloured concrete emerges from the calm shoreline, opening the sea surface to a long ramp that descends into an underground lobby.
THE EMPTY GREETING
After a journey downhill, visitors are greeted by rows and rows of empty shelves. This is the beginning of an unconventional journey to our sea world. Covering 70% of the earth’s surface, our knowledge of lives of the majority on planet earth seems to be limited to what we can purchase and consume from our all-too-familiar supermarket. But where do they come from? How did we fill those shelves?
“$13 for adults, $10 for students please”
said the receptionist.
The only item on sale are the entrance ticket for the journey to come.
THE CONSUMPTION MACHINE
This is the journey of a consumption cascade - a food chain. The weak are the prey for the strong. Beginning with the simplest microscopic creatures suspending in the sea, each room is succeeded with bigger predators of the former room. Dividing each room is a dark corridor that transitions between galleries that cleanse visitors of their pallete. As one descends through the cascading galleries, latter half of the galleries describes the apex predator - the ways of consumption of humanity. One arrives at an equivalence of observation. Through tunnels of the largest tank in the aquarium, the role of the observer and the subject is reversed. It presents a moment of realisation for visitors that we all live in a singular ecosystem.
From ways of preservation of aquatic lifeforms, to the everyday canning processes, not only does the journey displays the a scalar progression through the sea world, it also presents and safeguards the endangered and near extinct species of the aquatic world that will eventually be lost in our “natural” ecosystem. With artificial simulated environments and formaldehyde preservatives, most precious and exotic species are reserved for the highest bidder.
THE TRADING FLOOR
What defines our priorities on biodiversity are unavoidably human-centred choices. In this aquarium, we preserve, sustain and produce the products that support the aquatic lifeforms that are exhibited.
Not unlike real world scientific inquiries, what preserves and sustains this ecosystem or its knowledge is dependent on its patrons. This aquarium is a closed economic system. Once a fish is bought, it will forever be lost in the tank, memorialised only on a digital griddal display on the 30m retaining wall. Not only does this serve as an educational device that offers visitors an unconventional sea world, it is also a consumption machine that presents the ultimate anthropogenic commodity chain.
THE MARINE DINER
The Marine Diner floats at the end of the aquarium caters for the general public and the customers of the market. At this diner, customers can enjoy the view of the New York skyline, whilst having a fresh and delicious seafood meal from this aquarium. This humble and seemingly familiar eating house only asks our visitors to be evermore conscious of their consumption choices and the possible consequences they have to the only world we share.
Competition | Director's Choice
Alison Cheng, Hwajeong Lee, Timothy Tan, Francis Wong