World Cup fever is over for now, but rampant construction of landmark attractions continues in Brazil. This week, the overtly curvilinear and complex metal exoskeleton of the Acquário Ceará is taking form in the Kansas City, Mo.–shop of metal fabricator A. Zahner Co. When completed in late 2015, the project in Fortaleza, the capital of the northeast state of Ceará, Brazil, will be the largest aquarium in South America and one of the largest in the world.
Designed by Leonardo Fontenele, CEO and president of Imagic Brasil, the São Paulo–based Latin American branch of Cincinnati, Ohio's Jack Rouse Associates, Acquário Ceará combines catenary-esque structural forms with aquatic life–inspired shapes. Indeed, the aquarium will have 23 angled “legs” that support the “manta- and sea urchin–shaped roof surface,” according to a press release issued by Zahner, which is fabricating the aquarium's approximately 152,309-square-foot aluminum skin and framework.
A tourism brochure published by the Ceará government states that the four-story, 231,000-square-foot aquarium will feature two 4D movie theaters (typically 3D video plus in-theater effects such as scent and movement), submarine simulators, underwater tunnels and observation rooms, and interactive exhibits. It will also contain 32 tanks totaling 4 million gallons of water. For comparison, the world’s largest aquarium, the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom on Hengqin Island in China, has a total tank volume of nearly 13 million gallons, and Chicago's Shedd Aquarium has a total of 5 million gallons.
The Export-Import Bank of the U.S. is loaning $105 million to the state of Ceará for the $150 million project, which is being constructed by International Concept Management (ICM), a design/build firm in Grand Junction, Colo., that specializes in commercial aquariums and hospitality. ICM subcontracted Zahner to assist with the design and fabrication of the aquarium’s skin—color-anodized aluminum in three light tones—and aluminum framework. Zahner will use its patented ZEPPS (Zahner Engineered Profiled Panel Systems) technology, which combines in-house engineering with digital fabrication and production technologies to create the custom curvilinear metal components. The company will finalize the metal design and detailing in its Kansas City location and then fabricate the aluminum components in both Kansas City and its facility in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Currently, a 16-foot-tall, half-size mock-up of the aquarium’s support legs stands outside the Zahner shop in Kansas City. The Kansas City Star also reports that to keep costs down, Zahner developed an algorithm to maximize packing density and minimize the number of shipping containers—75—needed to deliver the components to the project site.
Like many high-profile projects, the aquarium has attracted some controversy in Brazil and in the U.S., as noted in an article by CityLab staff writer and former ARCHITECT senior editor Kriston Capps.