The New Pacific Seas Aquarium, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Courtesy EHDD.

New Pacific Seas Aquarium, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium



Thornton Tomasetti provided structural engineering services for a 34,000-square-foot, three-story aquarium located on a sloping site. The structure’s design is based on a spiraling visitor path that uses the site’s fairly steep topography to guide the visitor down and around the tanks, allowing for multiple vantage points at various levels. There are four stepped levels of public gallery, culminating in a large event space with expansive views of the Baja Bay tank; a 25-foot-deep, 250,000-gallon water tank. The building also contains a 75,000-gallon exhibit of Northwest Waters highlighting Pacific Northwest marine life as well as classrooms, office space and additional exhibit space.

The tanks for exhibits and life support systems, such as the deaeration tanks, are concrete structures that also act as lateral support for the building. Support services and equipment are housed below the large Baja Bay tank concrete slab using captured space from the sloping site geometry, which reduced the overall footprint of the building. The exterior walls are architecturally exposed concrete walls that provide lateral and gravity support that work together with the interior tank walls to provide column free exhibit spaces.

The roof consists of wood framing with structural insulated panels (SIP) and glulam beams and wood purlins. Portions of the roof span with 30-inch-deep glulam beams to provide a column-free space for exhibits.

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