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Testing the water

By YANG FEIYUE | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-30 10:30

Thomas Wong's design of the Chinese sturgeon preserve. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Gently curving wooden structural ribs radiate around a central spine that joins the three wings of the building into a singular unified expression.

Two of the three wings are dedicated to interior breeding and raising pools for each species, while the third wing houses a research pool where the public can get views of the aquarium and enjoy exhibitions.

The lightweight enclosure system envelops the interior pools to create a luminous, daylight-maximizing interior.

"We had many inspirations: the iconic landscapes of the upper Yangtze, wooden boat construction and the notion of a rescue vessel like an ark, the idea of fluid forms derived from the river's rippling surface and aquatic life," Wong says.

The design integrates highly sustainable strategies, combining a cross-laminated timber structural system, geothermal heating and cooling loops, and a newly-constructed system of wetlands featuring local flora and waterborne plants to aid rapid carbon sequestration and biofiltration for the aquarium's water-all working in tandem to maintain the environmental equilibrium.

The landscaping design reconstructs the riverside ecosystem and a variety of ecologies found throughout the Yangtze River basin, establishing the critical balance between land and aquatic habitats. Suspended walkways and viewing areas circumnavigate the complex and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the natural setting far removed from the dense urban core of Shanghai.

"We are always hopeful that our work delivers the utmost design excellence and we want to create work that inspires and fosters positive change in our world," Wong says.

"Like all the work that we engage in, we were very passionate about this project and believed in its purpose. Yes, iconic design is a factor, but it's not the end goal-ultimately we seek to utilize architecture as a means to transform the way humans live."

Wong has designed several museum facilities whose primary focus centers around nature and science. He worked on the Natural History Museum in Utah, which brings together nature and culture in the context of a truly remarkable landscape.

He was also the designer of the Shanghai Planetarium, which is currently under construction.

In each of these projects, Wong says that communicating the ideas of the "exhibit narrative" within the architecture is one of the primary goals, as is displaying the important work of researchers to foster interest, particularly in younger visitors.

Wong admits there is a different way to approaching and delivering architecture in China.

"One of the biggest challenges is working across time zones, languages and continents. Architecture is a team sport and clear communication is critical," he says.

But Wong believes China is "a very engaging place to work".

"There is so much opportunity to create unique designs, with a 'can do' attitude. The ambition we see everywhere is great, though we always counsel that we need to temper this with designs that will last and stand the test of time," he says.

Wong believes a good architect should have creativity, critical thinking and patience, as well as an appreciation for poetry and an understanding of history.

A foundational commitment to humanity and the world, and belief that architecture significantly affects both-and having something unique and distinct to share with the world-are also essential, he says.

"I must say that I feel quite fortunate to have had the opportunities that I have been afforded over the past 25 years at Ennead," Wong says.

Speaking about his future plans, Wong says he aims to spend the next 20 years creating beautiful and significant architecture around the world.

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