Monterey Bay Aquarium, designed by EHDD
Bruce Damonte Monterey Bay Aquarium, designed by EHDD

The American Institute of Architects announced today that the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been selected as the winner of this year's coveted Twenty-Five Year Award. Designed by San Francisco–based EHDD, the 322,000-square-foot aquarium, which is a destination for California school children, local adults, and tourists alike, was recognized by the jury for still being "a brilliant, gritty adaptive reuse, and still at the forefront of interactive museum space." When the building, which sits half on land and half on piers over water, was designed more than 30 years ago, the team incorporated existing buildings from Monterey, Calif.'s then-derelict Cannery Row into the new structure, retaining the historic character of the seaside town while capitalizing on unfettered access to Monterey Bay. "It's not slavishly contextual but adds more and respects what's there," the awards jury said.

The aquarium occupies the site of a former sardine cannery that operated from 1916 to 1973, and incorporates several elements of its predecessor.
Bruce Damonte The aquarium occupies the site of a former sardine cannery that operated from 1916 to 1973, and incorporates several elements of its predecessor.

Not content to merely showcase the local aquatic wildlife in large display tanks and hands-on pools, the museum literally brings the bay indoors by pumping unfiltered water, replete with the natural bacteria and microorganisms that can best nourish the creatures on display. But because of the highly corrosive nature of seawater, the team had to develop cutting-edge construction systems, including epoxy-coated rebar and fiberglass-enclosed pilings to prevent damage over time. (Recent tests show that the rebar will allow the concrete to withstand the harsh conditions for another 490 years.) Seawater is even used to heat and cool the building via a heat-pump system.

The aquarium attracts 2 million visitors each year.
Bruce Damonte The aquarium attracts 2 million visitors each year.

And it is not simply bringing bay water in that reinforces the connection between the building and the surrounding habitat. Large windows showcase views of the local ecosystems, a series of viewing platforms and decks provide indoor-outdoor spaces, and a cove shelters marine mammals.

The 28-foot-tall kelp forest exhibit.
Bruce Damonte The 28-foot-tall kelp forest exhibit.

More than 50 million people have visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it opened, taking in exhibits ranging from exotic jellyfish to the ever-popular sea otters. A decline in fisheries led to the decimation of Monterey's Cannery Row, but since it opened in 1984, the institution has been devoted to wildlife conservation and promoting the preservation of aquatic ecosystems around the world. Its mission is exemplified by the architecture of its facility that so connects it to the natural environment it seeks to protect. 

Tide pool
Bruce Damonte Tide pool

The Twenty-Five Year Award is selected by the Institute Honor Awards for Architecture Jury, which this year included Josiah Stevenson, FAIA (chair), of Boston’s Leers Weinzapfel Associates; José Alvarez, AIA, of New Orleans-based Eskew+Dumez+Ripple; Brad Cloepfil, AIA, of Portland, Ore.-based Allied Works Architecture; Roberto de Leon, AIA, of Louisville’s De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop; Julie Eizenberg, FAIA, of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Koning Eizenberg Architecture; Julie Engh, Assoc. AIA, of Highland Associates in New York; Elizabeth Hallas, AIA, of Anderson Hallas Architects in Golden, Colo.; Danielle Jones, AIAS Representative, of Zelienople, Penn.; and Christian Zimmerman, of the Prospect Park Alliance in Brooklyn, N.Y. The 2015 winner of the Twenty-Five Year Award was Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Broadgate Exchange House, in London.

Aerial view.
Courtesy EHDD Aerial view.

For evidence of the scientists' commitment to wildlife, watch this video of an abandoned sea otter pup being cared for at the institution: