A tectonic façade that symbolises the movement of the earth will serve as the iconic architectural feature of the new Cairns Aquarium and Research Centre.

Design works have officially commenced on the $50 million aquarium, which has been described as a “bold and confident architectural statement” for the town.

The building was a collaborative design project between Peddle Thorp Architects (PTA) and Architects Ellick and Partners. PTA has already completed nine aquarium projects, including Melbourne Aquarium’s Antarctic Exhibit and the fish tank which sits within the city’s Royal Children’s Hospital.

Cairns Aquarium Facade

The white facade responds to the urban heat island effect

Located at 163 Abbott Street, at the intersection of Abbott, Florence and Lake streets, the modern building will be a 10,000 square metre three-storey landmark designed to tap into the over four million visits a year to Australia’s tropical north.

The aquarium’s exterior walls are made up of a series of giant, white “tectonic” plates that “symbolise the movement of the earth over time causing the development of giant land masses and ocean structures in the region that led to the creation of the Far North’s tree covered mountains and the Great Barrier Reef,” according to the Cairns Aquarium website.

While Aquarium director Andrew Preston said the building’s design symbolise the gills of a fish, both comparisons are fitting for its Queensland location.

The layered application of the tectonic plates brings depth to the structure, folding and stretching around the building, which will be 90 metres long and 40 metres high.

Solar panels

Solar panels will help generate half the building’s electricity

Along with making an aesthetic statement, the assembly of the tectonic plates create a high performance facade working as self-shading elements for the building and responding to solar radiation.

The crisp white colour of the plates will also work to cool the building helping reduce overall energy use. Many cooling building solutions are based on a white facade or light reflective surfaces, which help to combat the urban heat island effect.

Natural light is also a major feature of the Cairns Aquarium, helping to reduce energy and infusing the space and attractions with daylight wherever possible.

“Along the length of the building, glass panels allow light to penetrate in and provide glimpses of the living breathing ecosystem within,” the aquarium’s website reads. “Visitors are also greeted by an 18 metre x 11.5 metre blue glass titled atrium entrance angled onto the street symbolic of a coral sea ocean view”.

In addition to the green façade, the glass panels which factor in natural light, cooling, ventilation and the white façade, an additional 200 kilowatts in solar panels installed will generate enough energy to meet half of the building’s electrical needs.

aquatic scenes

Over 12,000 square metres of aquatic attractions

The aquarium has an array of additional credentials set to help reduce energy consumption, including an on-site trigeneration facility, LED lighting, energy efficient equipment, temperature controls and the aquarium’s choice of endemic species that don’t require additional heating or cooling.

Upon its completion in 2016, the Cairns Aquarium will be home to 12,000 square metres of “mesmerising aquatic scenes.”

There will also be a research arm that will conduct vital research and development on species preservation and their environment. The aquarium’s location is also conveniently surrounded by an array of hotel chains offering ease of access to tourists.

“We want visitors in Cairns to photograph this building and share it with their family and friends,”  Daniel Leipnik, Cairns Aquarium CEO and founder said in a statement.  “We hope that it becomes sought after as a building design marvel and drives people from all over the world to want to come and see it.”