On all of our aquarium projects (like the Georgia Aquarium and St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station) one of the largest, and most critical components, is the animal Life Support System (LSS). Comprised of massive filters, pumps, storage basins and a host of sophisticated equipment, the primary function of the LSS is maintaining the quality, temperature, and clarity of the water in the exhibits. This is important not only for ensuring animal safety, but also for the guest experience. The LSS filters out chemicals and particulates down to microscopic levels, keeping animals healthy and guests’ views into exhibit tanks crystal clear.
Planning for, and allocating the right amount of space to, the LSS within the overall scope of a project is also uniquely challenging. Those massive filters, pumps, pipes, and other components take up an incredible amount of real estate. Comparing to hotel, or restaurant projects, where we would typically see 10-30% of the building dedicated to “back-of-house” (BOH) functions, with the remaining 70-90% available to “front-of-house” (FOH) guest spaces; for aquariums, those numbers can often be inverted, with the LSS, and other support areas far surpassing the size of the exhibit tanks and galleries.
Aside from laying out space for the BOH equipment, the related pipes for the LSS (some as large as several feet in diameter) inevitably have to make their way to and from the tank as well. This presents design challenges in concealing those items from guest view, and keeping them out of the way of the animals’ travel paths within the tank, while still being positioned to function properly. To achieve this, oftentimes pipes are concealed in the rockwork, and other “themed” elements, both inside exhibit tanks, and in the guest spaces, so as not to detract from the overall guest experience.
Space requirements are not the only thing to take into consideration for properly designing an effective Life Support System. Animal Health & Habitat, Staff Safety & Efficiency, and a host of other components all require careful planning and coordination across a wide range of design and engineering disciplines in order to ensure a safe environment for the animals, as well as a rewarding experience for the guests. I will continue to shed some light on these through this series of blog posts.