Baca Architects to build whale-shaped Australian Underwater Discovery Centre

Set to become the world’s largest marine observatory with an underwater restaurant, the partially submerged Centre is imagined as a whale’s head rising over Australian waters.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Feb 10, 2021

Baca Architects has been recently commissioned by marine contractor Subcon as the lead architects to design and build the Australian Underwater Discovery Centre (AUDC). Imagined as a whale breeching the ocean's surface, the submerged form will include a series of exhibition spaces, art galleries, and a stunning underwater dining experience along with a marine observatory, which is set to become the world’s largest. The design was chosen by public vote between three possible concepts, construction for which is expected to begin by the middle of next year and reach completion by December 2023.

Conceptual sketch of the Australian Underwater Discovery Centre | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
Conceptual sketch of the Australian Underwater Discovery Centre Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects

The Australian Underwater Discovery Centre has a mammoth volume imagined across 900 sqm, which will be built mostly of precast concrete, chosen for its durable nature and its ability to combat harsh geographic and climatic conditions. The “cetacean” design is an abstract interpretation of the whale with its head emerging over the Geographe Bay, while the section underwater will feature a massive glass partition with a view of life below the waves, reminiscent of Dorte Mandrup’s incredible design for The Whale, a oceanic museum in Norway. CoreMarine will handle the engineering for the Australian Underwater Discovery Centre, the same team behind Snohetta's famed underwater restaurant and marine life research centre, Under.

AUDC aims to become the world’s largest natural, underwater marine observatory | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
AUDC aims to become the world’s largest natural, underwater marine observatory Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects

With a budget of AU$30million, the submerged design will be constructed two km into the sea, alongside the Busselton Jetty, two hours south of Perth in Western Australia. The design will replace an existing observatory here, adding more space and features to meet the previously overwhelming demands of tourists. Barry House, Chairman of Bustleton Jetty, remarks that at peak times, visitors are turned away as not more than 44 people can gather inside the current structure each hour. “Bustleton Jetty managers are aiming for more than 2,00,000 new visitors in 2023 bringing the total to more than 9,00,000,” says the London-based firm.

The design will be realised two km into the sea, beside the Busselton Jetty in Australia | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
The design will be realised two km into the sea, beside the Busselton Jetty in Australia Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects

“This is as authentic as it gets, because people are in the tank and the fish are looking in. By adding underwater dining, underwater sculptures, marine art and other features, this project will enhance Bustleton Jetty’s 155-year-old experience,” House continues. “The current underwater observatory will become a marine research centre promoting clean oceans and feature public interaction with a world-class research and laboratory, to educate people about the ocean and climate change,” says Jetty Chief Executive, Lisa Shreeve.

The whale shaped form’s front | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
The whale shaped form’s front Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects

Upon arrival, visitors will be asked to leave their vehicles behind in a park with rain gardens, and will be guided through a landscaped sequence toward the landmark building. Once inside, they will enter an irreplaceable journey toward the ocean floor observatory.

Partially submerged window with views above and below the sea | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
Partially submerged window with views above and below the sea Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects

An array of exhibition spaces, viewing stations and art galleries will accompany the visitor’s descent into the submerged part, along with thick glass glazing that will give fantastic views above and below the waters. “The circulation is accentuated by the ‘cetecean’s eye’ - a large, partially submerged structural glass window that runs on one whole façade, and recalls a whale peeking up above the ocean surface,” explains Richard Coutts, director, Baca Architects. The centre culminates below sea level with the restaurant and dining space adorned with sculptures and artwork on the sea bed. 

The Centre will also include art galleries, exhibition spaces, viewing stations and an underwater restaurant | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
The Centre will also include art galleries, exhibition spaces, viewing stations and an underwater restaurant Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects

According to House, the construction and design of the discovery centre will generate work for 200 people and further down the line, thousands of jobs as “cafés, hotels, service stations, retail stores, bus companies, trade agencies all prosper, returning some $200 million in economic benefit in Western Australia”.

  • Section | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects
  • Plan | Australian Underwater Discovery Centre by Baca Architects | STIRworld
    Plan Image: Courtesy of Baca Architects

Project Details

Name: Australia Underwater Discovery Centre
Location: Busselton Jetty, WA, Australia
Status: Public consultation
Area: 900 sqm
Constraints: 2km out to sea and part on ocean floor
Main Contractor: Subcon Blue Solutions
Lead Architect: Baca Architects
Marine Engineering: CoreMarine

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