The Aquarium of the Pacific broke ground for its Pacific Visions wing this morning. The $53 million expansion is the first since the aquarium’s opening in 1998 and is expected to be complete in early 2019. The expanded Changing Exhibit Gallery will double the existing changing exhibit gallery space, adding a total of 6,000 square feet.

“The idea is to create programs that will engage, educate and empower the public to create a better future,” Jerry Schubel, CEO of Aquarium of the Pacific. “Through our exhibits and our programs, we hope to bring people together to build the social capital that’s necessary to address the major environmental issues that we’re faced with today.”

Working with San Francisco-based architectural firm, EHDD, the new building is designed as a biomorphic structure that evokes the Pacific Ocean while complementing the Aquarium’s existing structure. The façade façade will double as a ventilated rain screen, made up of more than 800 non-reflective glass panels covering an area of 18,000 square feet. Each panel will be uniquely sized to accommodate the curves and angles of the building’s form.

One of the goals of the expansion is to enhance the institution’s role as a community gathering place where scientists, policymakers, and the public can celebrate the inhabitants and ecosystems of the Pacific Ocean and explore today’s most important environmental issues.

Exhibits will be rotated periodically to reflect current scientific issues and discoveries and will be developed in conjunction with the theater experiences. Visitors will enter the new wing though the Pacific Visions Art Gallery featuring a range of changing installations to establish an emotional connection to the ocean and marine life. Visitors will then proceed into the Orientation Gallery, which will use the latest technology to provide visitors with a common set of facts and language to help them understand the concepts presented in the Honda Pacific Visions Theater. Cortina Productions will design the films, interactive elements, and technology-related exhibits in Pacific Visions.