The Domino Effect proposes to combine the restorative powers of a Bath House with the educational attributes of an aquarium along with a healthy dose of pet-therapy.

2012 Animal Architecture Award Honorable Mention


The Domino Effect proposes to combine the restorative powers of a Bath House with the educational attributes of an aquarium along with a healthy dose of pet-therapy. The Domino Effect works against the lack of human interaction with various aquatic species, and with the urban dweller’s need for relaxation. Productive programmatic juxtapositions between human and non-human zones allow for a heightening of the healing process and cross-species introductions. The Domino Effect allows species to not only cohabitate but physically and sensorially interact increasing our human sensitivity to the needs and functions of animal life.

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Houston, an ever expanding suburban metropolis, has one aquarium: the Downtown Aquarium.  This facility is owned and operated by Landry’s Restaurants, Inc.  This may seem slightly out of the ordinary but really nothing highly unusual.  Until it is known that Landry’s is a seafood restaurant chain.  A seafood restaurant operating the only aquarium in the third largest city in the United States.  Houstonians only association with observing aquatic creatures is that of eating them shortly thereafter at the in house restaurant.  If Landry’s opened a tank in the facility where diners could select their meal, no one would question this, in fact it would likely be embraced.

But how can we allow this relationship?  Aquaria are essential cultural institutions for cities.  But is the interest in and desire for buildings devoted to animal observation only feasible with revenue generation?  If this is the case are there more productive forms of hybridity?  Ones in which animals and humans actually interact, share, and form productive relationships?

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Bathhouses are also essential to cities acting as meeting places in addition to their general function as institutions of relaxation and release.  Many bath functions require a variety of temperatures, amounts and types of water, as well as various conditions of humidity.  Bathers have used these facilities throughout history for their healing and relaxing effects.  Coincidentally, aquatic animals existent in a myriad of habitats and ecosystems with similar variations.  Allowing specific species to live in these conditions amongst swimmers and bathers, affords productive relationships between human and animal.

Architecturally, the Domino Effect establishes a standard structural system of a grid of horizontal plates and vertical columns.  Water volumes are injected into this matrix pushing on horizontal plates.  Sharks and tropical fish live in warmer waters.  Walruses and penguins live in frigid landscapes.  Turtles, while they live in various temperatures, here live in cooler waters.  Aquatic birds live above and near water.  Each species has a distinct water volume, shaped and designed for their specific habitats and characteristics.  These define the locations of various bath facilities (frigidarium, caldarium, tempedarium, steam room, sauna, grotto, etc.) with obvious juxtapositions.  In addition, a full size Olympic pool and warm salt water wading pool occupy volumes adjacent to the animal volumes.

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These water volumes play with the structural matrix, shifting, deforming, and cutting horizontal plates while yielding to the relentless columnar grid.  As the visitor processes up and through the building, he/she is confronted at every turn with a new relationship be it with an animal, another visitor, or the city beyond.  This allows for a constant recontextualization of the juxtaposition of the human to the animal to the urban.

Each animal water volume serves a different function for the visitors, in addition to the automatic visual and auditory experiences.  The bird volume acts as a solar chimney evacuated Houston’s hot and humid air, creating a breeze near the wading pool.  The turtle volume allows swimmers to experience the same water yet maintains separation so that each can go about its function.  The polar animal volume provides cool air for the cooling treatments of the grotto.  The tropical fish volume acts as a touch tank for visitors as well as a fish foot spa in the warm tub, where bathers soak in the same water while allowing physical interaction between species.

The Domino Effect works with the urban lack of human interaction with various aquatic species, and the urban dweller’s need for relaxation.  Productive programmatic juxtapositions allow for heightening of the healing process.  Allowing species to not only cohabitate but physically and sensorially interact increases our sensitivity as humans to the needs and functions of animal life.

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Domino002 - CopyAll images credit: Andrew Daley


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