Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey, CA

To attract visitors to the historic Cannery Row area of Monterey, and to fulfill its mission to inspire conservation of the oceans, the David Packard foundation funded a 122,000 sq. ft. aquarium building, located on the site of an old cannery to feature marine life indigenous to Monterey Bay. Among the exhibits is the world’s tallest tank to house ocean kelp and approximately 550 different marine species. This exhibit is the first to allow kelp to be grown in captivity. Other exhibits display large and small marine species in their natural ecosystems.

We designed the HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems for the aquarium building. The mechanical systems were particularly challenging because of the need to pump in fresh ocean water in order to keep the exhibit tanks full of the natural diets and nutrients that the marine animals, fish and kelp must have to thrive and grow. To accomplish this, ocean water is pumped into the tanks at the rate of 2,000 gallons per minute day and night. During the day, the water is filtered for clarity. After hours, raw sea water (full of nutrition) is pumped through many of the exhibits. Utilizing the pumping system needed for the exhibit tanks, we used and treated the water exiting the tanks to heat and cool the building before returning it back to the ocean. This continuous water flow from the aquarium is available for the HVAC system as a nondepletable energy source, allowing the aquarium to meet their energy conservation goals. Careful consideration had to be made to make sure the temperature and condition of the returning water was such that it would not adversely effect the environment. The design of this system eliminated the need for large cooling towers and boilers, thus saving initial construction cost and tower maintenance costs for the aquarium.

The intricacies of the location of the aquarium meant the system had to be designed to withstand seasonal changes, the aggressive nature of seawater, and the salt-laden atmosphere, all contributing to corrosion. To accomplish this, distribution system materials were investigated in great detail, checking every part for availability, and insuring the optimum selection of each material used. By means such as these, the design should extend the life of the mechanical and electrical system to 40 years in many cases, rather than the average of two to seven years in similar installations.

The building includes a restaurant, auditorium, and classrooms, as well as the original cannery boilers, which have been refinished as an exhibit in the main entry.

In its first year, the aquarium drew 2.3 million visitors – twice as many as its founders expected. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2004, Monterey’s jewel has been rated in the Zagat Survey® U.S. Family Travel Guide as the best aquarium in the country and the third-best family attraction in the United States.


122,000 sf