Prefabbing a Fishbowl in Miami

MIAMI 11.10.15, 10:55AM  BY RYAN SALVAS

View from below the Gulf Stream Tank. Rendering: Grimshaw Architects

View from below the Gulf Stream Tank.

Rendering: Grimshaw Architects

A powerful scientific, educational and career resource, the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science will enrich the lives of South Floridians and visitors from around the world. With its real-life marvels, interactive exhibits, and exciting learning adventures in a state-of-the-art energy-efficient building, the new Frost Science will introduce the basic concepts of science and technology. It will also be a unique educational resource for people of all ages, cultures, and economic backgrounds.

The partly open-air structure was designed by Grimshaw Architects of London and will be home to science galleries, a history gallery, a planetarium and a "living core" aquarium and wildlife center that contains a microcosm of South Florida’s animal, fish and plant species.  The living core aquarium, called the Gulf Stream Tank, will frame the starting point of each visit, providing an environmental context for studies of the social, technological, physical and natural world around us.  The core design concept is “building as exhibit”. Grimshaw’s design is a “living building” - physically and visibly changing in response to environment, events and the mood of the city.

High Definition digital model. Image: CW Keller + Associates

High Definition digital model.

Image: CW Keller + Associates

CW Keller was tasked with delivering a complete strategy to cast the Gulf Stream Tank, by far its largest undertaking to date.  Just the numbers are staggering: the proposed massive aquarium was slated to be filled with over 1,200 cubic yards of concrete -- that's roughly 120 trucks full -- and when completed, would contain 500,000 gallons of saltwater.  That amount to over 400 million pounds of water!  Complex in its conical shape, inclination and suspension, it also house a 30-foot diameter oculus at the bottom of the basin.  The complex shape served a dual purpose: the shape is energy-efficient and ideal for sharks as there are no sharp corners, and it maximizes the cruising surface while reducing the amount of water.

CW Keller certainly had their work cut out for them.  Utilizing their 40 year history in woodworking, they devised a strategy  based on custom fabricating all of the concrete form-work in their plant in New Hampshire, and shipping to site.  All of this was pinned on the development of a robust, high definition digital model, which drove the entire process moving forward.  The entirety of the Gulf Stream Tank form-work was modeled using the 3D modeling software, Rhinoceros with additional 3rd party software such as the parametric modeling plugin, Grasshopper.

Using visual coding software, CW Keller was able to quickly map out and develop specific processes for projects to allow them to model, organize, and manage large quantities of components. The engineers used software nodes that were linked to perform operations on any given set of data or geometry. In addition to using the software’s predefined nodes, CW Keller engineers developed proprietary nodes to perform custom functions.

Output schematic direct from the digital model. Drawing: CW Keller + Associates

Output schematic direct from the digital model.

Drawing: CW Keller + Associates

As a result of a well developed system of organization through the engineering process, CW Keller was then able to fabricate, organize, and manage an extensive kit of parts which were sent to site to be put together. In total, there were over 7000 custom parts that were sent in 6 shipments.  A small subset of modules, that were more complex in their build requirements were assembled and shipped to site as whole modules.  The rigorous organization of the kits of parts sent to site allowed for the process of assembling the components to run smoothly. In a matter of weeks, the forms to cover the entirety of 9000 square feet of surface area on the tank were built.

Drone video of the 30 hour continuous pour for the Gulf Stream Tanks.

Video: CW Keller + Associates

In retrospect, the Gulf Stream Tank  was engineered, modeled for fabrication, manufactured, and cast in under a 2 year period. A significant factor in successfully completing this landmark achievement of architectural design were the techniques and processes used to engineer, model, and process the vast number of custom components.