I love aquariums. But, of course, I write for an aquatic architecture blog, so is that really a surprise to anyone? I jump on the opportunity to visit an aquarium, but my main problem with them is that you kind of have to make a whole day out of it. It takes hours to see everything, and you usually have to sit through a lengthy drive just to get there, so visiting an aquarium can really suck up a lot of your time. It’s really a bit ironic: the human species loves water and we see it everywhere (just look at how many cities are built next to oceans, rivers, and lakes), but seeing an aquarium is kind of a rare sight.
The builders of the Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping areas, intended to change that by bringing the beauty of aquarium life to people going about their daily business. Running along the center of the Dubai Mall is a massive aquarium home to over 33,000 creatures, which includes over 400 sharks and rays. Unlike most aquariums, which feature several sets of tanks, the Dubai Mall puts all of its fish eggs into one basket, so to speak, by focusing shoppers’ attention on this single exhibit.
It shouldn’t be surprising, as Dubai has become somewhat notorious for over-the-top architecture. Dubai recently went through something of an architectural renaissance and rapid economic growth, shattering negative stereotypes about the Middle East and proving that they be just as prosperous as any other country.
Creating such an enormous, central tank actually took a bit of engineering finesse. The custom-built acrylic viewing panel broke the record for being the largest of its kind at 27 by 108 feet. As with most modern aquariums, this aquarium also has a glass tunnel that runs along the bottom of tank so that shoppers can get up close and personal with the denizens of the deep.
These architectural achievements did not go off without a snag, however, as the whole thing sprung a leak. Back in February of ’10, a crack unleashed a deluge of water into the mall. Security officials quickly evacuated the mall and addressed the issue, and the mall reopened the next day. Mall spokespersons claimed that the leak did not adversely affect the aquatic environment or its inhabitants.
Considering the popularity of the Dubai Mall aquarium, it’s really rather surprising that we don’t see more exhibits like it around the world. In a way, it follows the same general logic as placing a movie theater inside of a mall. It encourages people to come for the entertainment and stay for the shopping, or vice versa. I mean, I’m a stereotypical male, so I envision a trip to the mall with approximately the same enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist. Though, if my local mall had a 245 ton aquarium, I think I’d be inclined to take my gal shopping much more often.