I’ve always adored the seashore. It’s a meeting place of two worlds, where the unfathomable ocean endlessly throws waves at the sandy shoreline. I know I’m not the only one — mankind is generally fascinated by the coast. Think of any major city on Earth and odds are good that it’s located along the shore of the ocean, a large river, or a lake.
So, when South Korea made calls for architects to design the Thematic Pavilion of Yeosu in 2012, the South Korea-based firm Unsangdong Architects sought to capture mankind’s love of the coast with their iconic Ocean Gate design.
The building is basically a gigantic metal donut placed on its side, with the lower-most part of the donut submerged beneath the water. This makes a vertical beach, with the bottom of the structure hosting aquariums and sea life exhibits, while the upper stories include tall windows to let in natural sunlight and open space for outdoor gardens.
Unsangdong Architects wrote about the Ocean Gate on their website, but unfortunately their English translation isn’t exactly perfect (you can check it out for yourself). From what I gather, the circular shape of the building is supposed to be a physical representation of the circle of life — visitors would explore the transfer of energy from sea to land, and back to sea again as they travel around the building. Start off in the submerged basement for a view of the local sea life before climbing up a few stories to the crisp open air and gardened ledges.
Every feature of the building emphasizes the fusion of artificial technology and natural beauty. On the outside, leafy gardens pair beautifully with the ocean-blue windows to give the building an organic look. On the inside, visitors will hardly be able to turn around without spotting trees, seals, or manicured gardens.
They’re definitely going to need to add some railings to their design, though. That walkway does not look safe! I’m actually a little bit nervous for that woman — one slip in those heels and she’s going to make a one-way trip into the shark tank below.
Unfortunately, this gorgeous design didn’t win the contract. They got an honorable mention (if you’re curious, the winning design was the One Ocean building, which resembles an eel with a hundred gills. If you ask me, Ocean Gate is a lot cooler).
Ocean Gate highlights a unique design opportunity for custom aquascapes: you could portray a natural concept such as the cycle of life and death, weather, or wild growth. We’ll use weather as an example. Everybody knows that water gradually wears down rocks from jagged, fragmented pieces into smooth stones, and eventually into sand. This transformation is much too slow for people to see it with their naked eye, but you can still highlight the process with a stunning custom aquascape. Imagine a gentle waterfall with jagged rocks at the top, smooth rocks in the middle, and sand at the bottom. The constantly flowing water serves as a visual reminder that time and weather can eventually reduce the world’s most massive structures to dust.
Another idea is to toy with the concept of growth. Different plants grow at different speeds, so you could design an aquascape where all of the plants in one area grow slowly, and all of the plants in another area grow quickly. The end result would be an aquascape that is a visual representation of plants flourishing in the wilderness — from sprout, to sapling, to a fully matured plant.
Ultimately, the possibilities are endless. You could mimic Unsangdong Architects with an aquascape that mimics the circle of life and death, or you could have an aquarium that represents the cycles of the four seasons. What do you think? How would you design an art piece that represents an aspect of Mother Nature?