Tatiana Bilbao Estudio completes ruin-like aquarium in Mexico

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Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, an architecture studio based in Mexico, has recently completed the Sea of Cortez Research Center, an innovative aquarium in Mazatlán. The design of the building merges marine and terrestrial elements, creating a unique labyrinthine structure. The center is located near the ocean and forms part of the regeneration project for Mazatlán Central Park.

The concept behind the Sea of Cortez Research Center is to create the impression of a future ruin that has been flooded by water. The studio envisions a scenario in the year 2289, where the building is discovered without any knowledge of its original purpose. The building was submerged by rising sea levels in 2100, but when the water receded by 2227, it left behind a thriving marine ecosystem.

The architecture allows visitors to explore a world that has taken over the space, hidden from their view. The three-level structure seamlessly blends human and animal life. It features various chambers housing large marine life tanks, including a massive ocean tank, a stingray tank, and a touch tank that showcases different marine ecosystems.

The monumental concrete walls of the building protrude from different angles, creating an intriguing aesthetic. At the center of the project, a large rotunda with a spiral staircase serves as a focal point. The aim of Studio Bilbao was to reimagine the traditional aquarium typology, which they believe creates a disconnect between humans and animal life. By creating the narrative of a ruin, visitors can better relate to their own ecosystem.

The Sea of Cortez Research Center contains administrative areas and an expansive entrance plaza on the ground floor. The second level features a double-height space surrounded by smaller rooms containing tanks. Additional support spaces are located on the top floor, with rooftop gardens above them. The building has large stairwells at each end, with one leading up through the center and another descending to the central plaza, providing access to the exhibition spaces.

Throughout the interior, exposed concrete walls add an industrial yet organic touch to the design. Many of the smaller rooms have open roofs, while the aquarium spaces are dimly lit and evoke a cave-like atmosphere. Pools and greenery are incorporated into the design to further enhance the connection between visitors and the surrounding plant and animal life.

Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, founded in 2004, has gained recognition for its innovative architectural projects in Mexico and internationally. It recently completed an “interactive staircase” for the 2023 Exhibit Columbus design festival in Indiana. The Sea of Cortez Research Center adds to the studio’s portfolio of groundbreaking designs.

Photography for the project was captured by Christian Belmont and Tonatiuh Armenta. The project credits include construction director Soledad Rodríguez, construction manager José Luis Durán, and the construction team consisting of Vania Aldonza Torres, Christian Belmont, Guillermo Barrera, and Cinthya González. Collaborators on the project include Liquen, Space House, Ocean Wise, Guillermo Roel, and the client is Fideicomiso Acuario Mazatlán. The construction was carried out by Kingu Mexicana, with management by Axioma. Landscape design was done by Entorno Taller de Paisaje, and SENER was responsible for the structural engineering. Life support engineering was handled by TJP, MAT, Lightchitects Studio, NIPPURA, and ICUSI.

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