Colorado’s Ocean Journey (COJ) was a singular structure in many ways, combining technical and geometric complexity in a compressed building envelope. Unlike most aquariums, COJ was conceived with the mechanical and life support systems located underneath aquatic exhibits. The large tanks (up to 21 feet in depth) are thus supported on a structural system, rather than directly on a dedicated foundation. The superstructure not only carries vertical loads of over 1000 pounds per square foot, but also is designed to resist high lateral earthquake loads magnified by the movement of water.
In addition to the loading criteria, COJ's geometric complexity created a separate set of challenges for the design team. The building is divided into two main components: a rectilinear "box" which contains the exhibits, and a curvelinear, open atrium "wrap" which encompass 29,000 square feet of space and is utilized as the entry and public assembly space for the Aquarium. The entire structure of the wrap is exposed to view.
The 2,700 square foot, cable-supported balcony element of the wrap presented a unique challenge. Vertically suspended by pre-tensioned cables at its outer edge, the balcony slab acts as a horizontal beam, spanning 60 feet along the atrium perimeter between column supports. This series of design challenges and solutions
led the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) to present COJ with the Grand Conceptor Award, for the outstanding engineering project in Colorado. This recognition is reserved for those projects that demonstrate the highest level of technical creativity and skill, develop techniques and methods that advance the profession, and contribute to the public well being.