Honorable Mentions: Georgia Aquarium
December 01, 2006

By Staff
Appeared in Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Georgia Aquarium

Syska Hennessy Group, Cambridge, Mass.

The challenge: design building M/E/P systems, aquatic life support systems, M/E/P for exhibits and a 4-D theater, in one of the world's largest aquarium facilities. That was the Herculean task that confronted engineers at Syska Hennessy Group's Cambridge office. Fortunately, Syska engineers have an extensive record and experience on fast-track, complexly integrated projects.

The challenges were many. For example, how do you control building humidity in a 1.5-million-cu.-ft. room that houses a 6-million-gal. tank of water at 77ºF and with more than a half-acre of surface area? The answer was numerous high-velocity jets (pictured at left) to deliver conditioned air high in the space.

Or how about the problem of integrating HVAC systems for more than 500,000 sq. ft. of building with an interactive smoke control system? The engineers at Syska developed systems based on concepts developed by Howe Engineers, Falmouth, Mass. The design allows for exhausting more than 120,000 cu. ft. per min. from any of five major galleries or from the central plaza, while supplying more than 100,000 cfm to keep all of the other galleries smoke-free.

In short, the irregular nature of the exhibit design required a unique approach to almost all of the building systems—but especially for HVAC, lighting and fire protection. For example, a 120-ft. acrylic viewing tunnel that runs below the “open ocean” tank could not be protected with a traditional sprinkler system design. In fact, sprinklers were not even physically feasible. The solution was high-tech: a very early smoke detection (VESDA) system. HVAC in the tunnel would rely on supply air being introduced through a trench in the floor and return air through a recess in a low wall that runs the length of the tunnel.

In a very real sense, all M/E/P systems in this project are critical systems—emergency power for 100,000 fish and countless human visitors, lighting systems for both emergency use and exhibit special effects. In the Georgia Aquarium, Syska Engineers have brought all their know-how to bear.