Auspicium Aevum

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Context for a premise: Norfolk, Virginia, 1986

The original premise for the National Aquarium for the Waterfront, Norfolk, Virginia derived from the realization that a potentially dramatic portion of the city had been separated by a major highway.

As a young student of Engineering and Art, I had spent a year in this city, finding that there were few places to dwell. The scale of the streets was lost to the intervention of the highway, and the urban path gave way to meander without destination. I began to perceive zones in the city where I could find solace, take a meal, see Art or hear music; yet the only way to experience these places was to travel through the less hospitable ones. I also began to realize that the worst of the experiences were available in the newest parts of the city, and that neither the architecture, nor the spirit of the city, was being honored in the constructs of man.

The site in question was an inlet to a former freight yard with a boatbuilding school on a dock, flanked by two postmodern condominium buildings that effectively isolated it from the waterfront to the north and south. Featured amid the ruins of the tracks were various artifacts including a wheelhouse and a concrete molasses storage tank.

A tremendous richness was evident in the vernacular and utilitarian treatments of the waterways. Here was an understanding of the Earth’s oceans, her lifeblood: the power of the sea was apparent in the way man had built along her edges; there was inherent respect, an acknowledgment of her force majeure.

The opportunity to work within an urban environment met a long-standing desire to build upon the water’s edge. A desire for an environmental expose yielded a program that would celebrate the life of the sea against a backdrop of neglected waterfront. The primary axis was determined by the figurative procession to the sea, and consequently, was born a program with direction.

There came a moment when a method of working within a city became more clear, revealing a means to understanding and accepting the urban labyrinth with all of its complexities. The simplicity of an approach that would carve out places for humans amid structures that bespoke other ideals appears naïve in hindsight, yet it provided a point of departure from which to begin the project. This marked a milestone in my education: the point where I started to learn about urban form, its synthesis and integration.

Timelessness, Aquarium