Interact with Sharks! At the New York Aquarium

Read Time: 5 minutes

Ocean Wonders: Sharks! at the New York Aquarium, instills a sense of awe as visitors come eye-to-eye with large sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks and hundreds of marine species native to New York waters—and a suite of digital interactives created by Unified Field (New York).

This summer the Wildlife Conservation Society debuted the Donald Zucker and Barbara Hrbek Zucker “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” exhibit at the New York Aquarium. The 57,500-square-foot-space that holds more than 800,000 gallons of water and brings visitors nose-to-nose with more than 115 marine species. The exhibit seeks to connect New Yorkers with the waters around them and the challenges of conserving ocean wildlife for future generations.

The building’s design is an organic, fluid geometry resembling landforms carved by water. Integral to this theme is the spiraling ramp that unveils ocean views and leads visitors to a roof deck featuring open vistas and views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Coney Island boardwalk not previously available to aquarium visitors. Ocean Wonders: Sharks! instills a sense of awe as visitors experience the Coral Reef Tunnel, The New York Bight or the mysterious Hudson Canyon’s Edge where they come eye-to-eye with large sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks and hundreds of marine species native to New York waters—and a suite of digital interactives created by Unified Field.


The Ocean Wonders: Sharks! Architecture

The exhibit interprets the wonders of the ocean, creating a structure that is inspired by nature with a façade that is alive and visually magnetic. Rising seamlessly from the famed Coney Island boardwalk in sweeping curves, the dramatic design is the product of a team headed by WCS’ Susan Chin, Vice President of Planning & Design and Chief Architect, in collaboration with Edelman Sultan Knox Wood/Architects, Doyle Partners, and Seattle-based interdisciplinary design firm, The Portico Group.  The organic form of the building cantilevers over the boardwalk, creating a new and dynamic relationship between the New York Aquarium and the surrounding community and forming unique gathering spaces for the boardwalk visitor.

The kinetic beauty of the 1,100-foot-long Shimmer Wall wraps around the fluid forms of the Ocean Wonders: Sharks! building, creating a dynamic structure that is ever-changing and driven by the forces of nature. Designed in collaboration with visual artist Ned Kahn, the Shimmer Wall is constructed of more than 33,000 4” x 5 ½” aluminum flappers that move individually with the wind. Ocean Wonders: Sharks! has received a LEED Silver Certification, achieved through multiple strategies related to water efficiency, sustainable sites, energy use and materials. The project was recognized by the New York City Public Design Commission with an Award for Excellence in Design.

Said Chin: “The architecture evokes the natural world and reflects the function within; an engaging exhibit that connects people to the ocean and inspires their stewardship. Ocean Wonders: Sharks! is transformative in many ways for the New York Aquarium and Coney Island’s community and visitors.”


Undersea Interactives

The Wildlife Conservation Society partnered with Unified Field and Chocklog Productions to create a series of innovative undersea interactive experiences, films and animations which enable guests to understand shark habitats and behaviors, explore 3D models of shark skeletons and witness the development of shark fetuses. According to Jason Bell, Unified Field’s Senior Producer on the project, “The experiences our collective team created, weave key messages into highly effective stories and experiences for the new and exciting Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit.”

An interactive media wall allows visitors to explore 3D models and high resolution videos of multiple shark species. Other interactives invite guests to get involved and post a digital magazine cover of themselves in action and stomp out trash in the oceans. The mission comes to life, inspiring curiosity and providing a foundation of conservation in the hearts and minds of visitors.

Unified Field partnered closely with the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop and design the digital media. WCS came to Unified Field with pre-existing concepts for the exhibit, and the interactive studio collaborated with WCS by helping them flesh out their concepts in terms of the technology available to tell the desired stories in Ocean Wonders: Sharks! From a media wall with 3D models and videos of live sharks in the ocean to a newsstand that inspires guests to leave a photo of themselves and a pledge aid ocean conservation, Unified Field accomplished WCS’s goals by distilling the knowledge and passion of the NY Aquarium’s experts into bite sized media pieces that can inspire guests to learn more in the surrounding exhibit.


Ocean Conservation

From the interactives to the gallery spaces and the tanks, Ocean Wonders: Sharks! will drive awareness of the importance of sharks to the health of the world’s oceans; educate visitors about the severe threats sharks face; and inspire guests with the diversity of marine wildlife that exists in the waters around the tri-state area. Through cutting-edge and innovative displays, including a shipwreck and shark tagging vessel, the exhibit will inspire the next generation of conservation stewards. Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors, and tens of thousands of students in the aquarium’s education programs will learn to value and protect our oceans.

Ocean Wonders: Sharks! is a platform that illustrates the power of the New York Aquarium’s marine conservation efforts, the New York Seascape program. It showcases the conservation work of New York Aquarium scientists both in the field and at the aquarium. Objectives of the conservation program include: securing habitat protection for juvenile sand tiger sharks; tagging sharks to study their migration patterns and promoting better management of their fisheries; developing the science for successful propagation of sand tiger sharks at the aquarium; increasing the monitoring of great whale migrations in and out of New York waters to reduce ship strikes; and working with the offshore wind energy industry to create guidelines for the protection of marine mammals. Worldwide WCS invests in ocean protection, sustainable fisheries and marine conservation. 


—by Marla Supnick and Greg Peduto, Unified Field


Project Name: Ocean Wonders: Sharks!
Client: Wildlife Conservation Society, New York Aquarium
Location: Coney Island, NY
Open Date: June 30, 2018
Project Area: 57,500 sq ft
Budget: $150 million
Exhibition Design: The Wildlife Conservation Society – Exhibition and Graphic Arts Department & The Portico Group
Architects: Edelman Sultan Knox Wood (Architect of Record)
Interactive Experience Design: Unified Field
Collaborators: Chocklog Productions
Photography: Greg Peduto
Videography: Greg Peduto & Daniel Mahon