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Cetacean design for $AU30m Australian Underwater Discovery Centre

The new Australian Underwater Discovery Centre will be built partially underwater, two kilometres out at sea. It is set to become the world’s largest marine observatory.

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Busstelton Jetty Underwater Discovery Centre

Baca Architects have designed the Australian Underwater Discovery Centre (AUDC) to be built at historic Busselton, Geographe Bay, in Western Australia.  The aim is for the centre to become a global marine research hub for scientific investigation as well as a key visitor attraction for the area.

The new centre will build on the success of the existing Busselton Jetty Underwater Observatory which opened in 2003.  The original observatory was only able to house 44 visitors an hour so Baca’s brief was to offer an iconic building that could handle large visitor numbers as well as provide more extensive research facilities. The centre also hopes to educate the wider public about the effects of climate change on the oceans.

“The goal is to promote the education, awareness and monitoring of the jetty’s immediate marine environment and the wider environs of Geographe Bay,” said Richard Coutts of Baca, talking to Dezeen.

The centre is slated to open by December 2022 with projected visitor numbers reaching to 900,000 by the end of 2023.

Three potential designs

The winning design Australian Underwater Discovery Center
The winning design

The new marine observatory will represent a whale’s head breaking through the waters of Geographe Bay.  The ‘Cetacean’ design was one of three that Baca produced – the others were a ship-shaped structure named Voyage and the Rock, inspired by Castle Rock in Western Australia.

The local population chose the final design, following a series of consultation events.  The commission came from marine contractor Subcon which specialises in restoring existing reefs and creating new ones. CoreMarine Engineering is also involved in the build.

The observatory will be built of concrete with a water heat exchange system for stabilising internal temperatures.  A porous form of concrete will be used across the exterior of the building – its bioreceptive properties encourage the growth of barnacles.

Busselton Jetty has been described as Australian’s greatest artificial reef.  It is home to over 300 different marine species, including tropical and sub-tropical corals, unusual for its latitude of 33 degrees south.

The Cetacean’s Eye

Visitors will be able to explore a number of galleries and exhibition areas above sea level.  They will then descend below sea level to discover the observatory at the level of the ocean floor.  Glass windows offer views above and below the water with the centrepiece a structural glass window extending the height of the building – the ‘Cetacean’s Eye’.

A seabed level restaurant lets visitors watch the life of the bay.  It will also offer a relaxed viewing point for sculptures on the ocean floor.  Baca also promises an ‘underwater trail’.

“This is as authentic as it gets because people are in the tank and the fish are looking in,” said Barry House, chairman of Busselton Jetty. “By adding underwater dining, underwater sculptures, marine art and other features, this project will enhance Busselton Jetty’s 155-year-old experience.”

The growing trend for underwater building

The AUDC is far from the only partially submerged attraction being built.  A museum and research centre containing the wreck of The Amsterdam is planned for the Netherlands – offering visitors a chance to watch underwater archaeologists at work.

Other underwater projects include a new underwater sculpture park for Miami Beach; a Living Museum in the Sea at La Caleta in the Dominican Republic; and an underwater military museum in Jordan.  Proteus is set to become the ocean’s equivalent to the ISS while Ocean Spiral is an environmentally friendly underwater city being designed by Japan’s Shimizu Corporation.

Images kind courtesy of Baca Architects

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