Maryland: Mountains to Sea


at the National Aquarium in Baltimore

Occasionally, animal habitats in the aquarium require updates and maintenance, and boarded up exhibits pique the guests’ interest. With two exhibits being simultaneously renovated in the Maryland: Mountains to Sea exhibit--one
of our most popular--I was tasked with designing the construction walls to answer their questions while also representing the life hidden behind the walls. The tricky part was that the designs had to be cut from white vinyl.


Observation + Sketching


After visiting the exhibition, I decided perhaps instead of simply explaining the absence of the habitats, it might be more interesting to actually create another one--a flat, two-dimensional one made of vinyl.


With accuracy being crucial to any aquarium project, after acquiring a list of the animals in the two exhibits and researching online, I began sketching habitats, starting with Allegheny Stream. However, after a few iterations, I realized that using only fish might make them difficult to differentiate from one another.

After reviewing the list of animals in our aquarium exhibit again, I realized that there were not only aquatic, water-dwelling animals but also amphibious inhabitants, like frogs and turtles. To create a more diverse habitat, rather than choosing to replicate a completely submerged image, I diverted to one that was half water and half land, separated by a simple waterline. I then attempted to replicate a stream habitat with a combination of natural elements, including waterfalls, rock formations, and grasses. 

To strike a compromise between keeping the animals recognizable while also limiting the amount of detail--
and future cutting--I settled with creating silhouettes with fins, gills, mouths, and other features excised. In a
pitch-black exhibition and the construction walls being painted a near-black blue themselves, the negative
space would fill all the necessary gaps against the white vinyl.


Placement + Scale

One issue we hadn't anticipated
was the installation itself. After mapping the first placement and hours of cutting, our team was ready to install--but ran into a technical issue: the vinyl wouldn't adhere to the painted wood of the wall.


Additionally, the wall was actually
three panels, not one continuous piece of wood, the the groove was significant enough that the vinyl would have to be cut to match the placement of the grooves. 


Editing + Final Installation


While waiting for the wood to be coated with black sintra, I made revisions to the placement with the grooves taken into consideration. After discussing with my team, we decided that while it was practical to map the placement, in order to utilize the vinyl we had already cut and avoid cutting and wasting too much more, the map would be used as more of a guideline than an exact replica. 

The same process of sketching and rendering was used for the Atlantic Shelf construction wall. Having learned from the Allegheny Stream wall, the process for creating the second wall was significantly more streamlined.