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Coney Island ‘whale’ gasps for air - Aquarium designers fight on

The redesign of the New York Aquarium’s exterior might not be “dead” in the water after all, this paper has learned. “Nothing is over yet,” said urban planner John Beckman, principal with Wallace Roberts &Todd (WRT). “There is no punch line to the story yet.” Beckman’s firm won a once heralded design competition to undertake the project, which was to be the Coney Island institution’s most significant renovation since its arrival from Manhattan in 1957. Beckman said that the Wildlife Conservation Society, the entity that oversees the aquarium, has asked his firm to work with them to develop an approach that will “address the spirit of the winning entry.” “What that ends up meaning—no one knows. That work has not been authorized yet,” he said. The winning entry—an illuminated structure that resembles a great whale—was announced last year. In a recent report, The New York Times declared the whale design “essentially dead.” Madelyn Wils, the executive vice president for planning and development for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), told the paper that, “We are not proceeding on that concept.” As an alternative, Wils said, the city will contribute roughly $50 million to go toward a new shark exhibit. But Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the EDC, had this to say on the last day of March: “We are working on one unified design for the perimeter of the aquarium and the shark exhibit. We feel it is important that this be a coordinated effort.” “We are working with the designer that won the competition,” Patterson confirmed. The EDC, in cooperation with the Department of City Planning, is one of the lead agencies involved with the redevelopment of Coney Island, which includes improving the aquarium. The winning design was done by Philadelphia-based WRT in conjunction with Enric Ruiz of the Barcelona-based firm Cloud 9. Whether the final design resembles the otherworldly, original rendering is unclear. “People just have to be patient,” Beckman said. Margie Ruddick, also a principal with WRT, has said that the original design represents the “fusion of the science of marine biology, architecture, spectacle, Coney Island and the beach.” The mesh structure’s walls were to be covered with 40,000 lights, which would soak energy from the sun during the day, and illuminate the aquarium at night. A dune landscape was to extend the design to the ocean, where the recreation of a salt marsh was also planned near the waterline.

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