Fin shui: Designing exhibits for the New York Aquarium and city zoos

new york aquarium
Sue Chin and Jon Dohlin at the construction site of a new shark and marine exhibit at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

Sand tiger sharks, rough tail rays, sea turtles and thousands of schooling fish have to wait just a few more years before swimming into their new Coney Island digs.

But for designers behind the New York Aquarium’s upcoming “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” exhibit, creating a functioning marine environment is far from a simple move.

“It has gone through multiple versions,” said Sue Chin, vice president of planning and design and chief architect at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the aquarium and four zoos in the city. “The idea for sharks came up about 10 years ago, but this current design really evolved over the last 3 years.”

Superstorm Sandy, along with funding and other delays, continued to push back the $157.1 million project’s groundbreaking until last month.

Expected to open in 2016, the shark exhibit is among the more ambitious projects coordinated by Chin for the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the only organizations in America with its own design department for zoos.

But most designs — be it a shark tank or tiger habitat — can still take years to put together. Architects, designers, scientists and curators may collaborate on project concepts for several months before specific plans are made.

Chin and her roughly 30-person team start with species research.

“Designing for a gorilla is very different from designing for a bird of paradise or a boa constrictor,” Chin said. “Every species has very different needs.”

The aquarium’s director, Jon Dohlin, said that guest experience must be balanced with animal well-being throughout the design process.

“They have to be homes and, in the case of aquatic animals, they have to be the actual environment that these animals live in,” Dohlin said.

Chin said that she and her team also hope to inspire visitors with their designs.

“The ultimate goal is to get the public excited about same thing that we’re excited about, which is these beautiful animals, the habitats that they live in and the vulnerabilities and challenges that face them out in the wild,” she said.

And while New Yorkers can find images of sharks and fish online, Chin still sees value in viewing them up close at the aquarium when the new exhibit finally opens.

“There’s a different connection to be made when you’re standing right there in front of another living being and that’s our goal,” Chin said.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.


Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…


OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…


MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.


Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."


'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.


'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."


TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.


Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.


Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.


Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”


Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.


Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.


Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…


NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.


The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.