A Spectacular Aquarium for the Zoo in Vienna / by 3XN and GERNER GERNER PLUS

An application procedure involving the global-playing Danish architecture bureau 3XN and GERNER GERNER PLUS from Austria together with ATT, an internationally working specialist for the technical planning of large aquaria, has produced a design for a spectacular aquarium in Schönbrunn Zoo. It lies across the landscape like a great veil, the magic of its undulating silhouette drawing visitors as if under a spell into the mysterious underwater world.


The design for an aquarium by 3XN and GERNER GERNER PLUS manifests itself as elegant, simple and mysterious, lying across the landscape like a great veil. A spacious roof landscape emerges, spread with greenery and embedded in the network of paths in the historic complex of Schönbrunn Zoo, also offering room for a bearded vulture aviary. The building covers a total area of 6,000 m² divided into four levels. Large-area glazing and a wave-shaped entrance welcome visitors into the hallway, leading towards the softly undulating waterworld.

Not only the entry, also the ceiling softly undulates, generating a medley of moods. During the tour, temperatures, background sounds, lights and ceiling heights immerse visitors into ever changing atmospheres. The architecture and specially devised routing intensify this experience, the perfect stage for the underwater world theatre. For concentrated observers, the path widens into small bays in front of the individual tanks, enhancing the experience with a greater sense of intimacy. At the end of the tour the visitor arrives at the shop and a café, which opens up its sunny terrace from noon onwards. Direct access from the café into the event room and shark tank offers a high degree of flexibility in the different zones. Outside opening hours, people have the option of using the aquarium’s event room – which includes the shark and jelly-fish tanks – for official functions.

Construction and Materials

In order to withstand the aggressive ambient atmosphere caused by salt water, it was decided to use concrete as constructional material. This in fact accentuated the scenario and presentation of the new underwater world as well. The design was quite deliberately designed to eschew forms that were complicated to set up. The aquarium’s deep tanks are installed directly on the floor base, ensuring optimal load distribution and therefore dispensing with elaborate static constructions. The building centre and consequently the construction revolves around the shark tank, which through its size and contingent technical requirements acts as the central space-shaping element. The floor base has to be additionally reinforced in this area in order to cope with the enormous loads. The glass pane of the tank will measure 12 times 6 metres and will be made of special plastic, 55 cm thick.

The construction supporting a roof structure that looks like a far-reaching landscape is as simple as it is efficient. The undulating, curving form consists of divisible sectors and can be made using standard formwork. The construction does not resort to hyper-paraboloid areas that would lead to extra costs.