Does a painting of the ocean count as aquatic architecture? I’d say no. How about a mural on the side of a building depicting the ocean? Eh, that’s still a little iffy. What about a gigantic virtual fish tank made from LEDs?
Not all aquatic architecture has to have H2O. Sometimes, a structure only needs to invoke the image or feeling of water to get the message across. Water can be a great source of artistic inspiration and design features. Just look at these droplet-inspired buildings.
That’s the basic idea behind Beijing Mall’s massive virtual aquarium, a 250 x 30 meter screen dotted with millions of LED lights. The whole thing is suspended several meters off the ground so that shoppers can walk under it, look up, and experience what it would be like to walk on the bottom of the ocean.
Or pictures of faces, or advertisements, or whatever else it happens to be displaying at the moment. The screen is actually designed to show a wide variety of images. It can show video games, uploaded pictures, special videos during events, or just about anything you could imagine. When it’s not being used for anything else, though, it defaults to a lively pseudo-aquarium.
This versatility makes it the most densely populated aquariums in the world, assuming we can get past the tiny little concern that none of the fish are actually real. Still, the screen shows off coral, manta ray, sharks, tropical fish, whales, and even a few dragons. Don’t expect to find views like that at your local aquarium.
What did this elaborate light show cost? A whopping $32 million. Once you get up to numbers like that, it seems that you’d just be better off building an actual, real-life aquarium. After all, the folks down in Dubai pulled off a mall aquarium.
The Beijing aquarium is neat and all — don’t get me wrong. I just feel like it kind of misses the point. In this day and age, pretty much everything we come in contact with is simulated and virtual. We’re so disconnected from the world around us that we often go out of our way and travel halfway around the world just to experience a bit of authenticity.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in front of a computer connected to the Internet, so I’m only a few keystrokes away from looking at pictures of fish, deep sea expeditions, sharks, or pretty much anything else. Yet, I still go to aquariums because it lets me see real fish. This LED screen is certainly a spectacle and I suspect that I’d spend a few minutes staring at it if I ever end up in a Beijing Mall, but I think I’d have more fun if I could stare at actual fish instead.