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Ripley’s Aquarium, Toronto, Canada

Issue 80 August / September 2014 : Retail: Aquarium

Architect: B+H ARCHITECTS Lighting Design: MULVEY & BANANI

Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto is one of the largest indoor marine exhibits in the world and it is the first to feature tanks entirely lit with LED. Mulvey & Banani developed the first-of-its-kind lighting scheme that aims to create a theatrical visitor attraction while caring for the aquarium’s precious marine charges.

The Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto sits just a few blocks away from the city’s famous CN Tower and is a formidable new addition to Toronto’s cavalcade of attractions. The aquarium is large in scope, boasting a comprehensive marine collection in several aquatic exhibits and a dramatic under water tunnel. Overall the aquarium holds a massive 5.7 million litres of water, water which nearly 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater fish call home, making this something of a marine lovers jackpot.

When Toronto-based lighting designers and engineers, Mulvey & Banani, first began work on the project in 2010, LED technology had not yet advanced to offer alternates to the high wattage metal halide bulbs that are typically used in aquariums, so the original tank design was made up of metal halide sources.

Aquariums throughout North America have traditionally been lit with 150- and 250-watt metal halide fixtures, which can cause a number of maintenance and operational issues.

“When the team at Mulvey approached us on this project, we knew LED would be a more effective option for what they wanted to accomplish. With the development of the technology over the course of the design phase, we were able to offer some exciting options for the team to test out,” says Nick Puopolo, Partner at Salex, the lighting agency partner who worked with Mulvey & Banani to locate the best fixtures for this project.

A challenge for the designers and a key goal for Ripley’s was to create a new aquarium environment that better represented the natural habitat of the tropical fish and plant life it was to play host to. With this in mind, and armed with the latest LED technology, the Mulvey & Banani design team headed to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to mock-up new lighting layouts on an existing Ripley’s aquarium.

The mock-ups allowed the team to test different luminaires over the tanks and determine which light source, beam spread and colour temperature would best suit the design. Different fixtures were installed and their ability to withstand the harsh salt-water conditions was tested.

For the aquarium’s large feature tanks, Mulvey+Banani chose marine-grade Lumenbeam XLarge luminaires, opting for tight, focused beams of lights (6° and 10° optics). The luminaires were mounted above the tank and then carefully aimed against the water at a shallow angle.

Through strategic placement and angling of the lighting fixtures, the designers were able to create visual effects in the tanks that would typically only be seen by a diver or snorkeler.

In the past, the light source of a tank would be directly above it representing the sun at the peak of day. The effects in the new aquarium mimic the sun rising and setting and allow for more dynamic visuals for aquarium visitors while also achieving better engagement from aquarium wildlife.

To light the aquarium’s large jelly fish tanks, Mulvey+Banani installed Lumenfacade colour changing luminaires on dry niche compartments in the tanks’ side windows. Shining through the windows, the luminaires graze the jellyfish, bringing out unique features with every colour.

In the Canadian Waters Gallery an impressive backlit Barrisol ceiling made of PVC is a custom suspended architectural element. It is edge-lit with LED tape light and track mounted wave lights were also used to mimic shimmering water.

The new luminaires provided a more natural colour temperature, some of the fish responded immediately and started swimming playfully within the beams of light.

“The marine biologists overseeing the testing commented that they had not seen the fish do that before,” says Paul Boken, Associate Lighting Designer, Mulvey & Banani.

The look of the gift shop was inspired by the Northern Lights, the night sky and flowing water. The media façade at the front of the shop features Traxon String RGB, installed behind Barrisol, and is used to display media content in support of the aquatic theme. Throughout the gift shop shelving is illuminated by Traxon Media Tube RGB. Controlled by an e:cue Lighting Control Engine fx (LCE-fx), six Butlers, and two Video Micro Converters (VMC), the lighting on the media façade works in tandem with the lighting on the display shelves inside the store to display the same content. Additionally, the 2 DMX output ports from the LCE-fx control the theatrical lighting in the Main Entrance Ticketing Lobby, which highlights a custom sculpture by a local artist at the entrance to the aquarium.

Throughout the shop shelving is illuminated by Traxon media tube 
Other benefits of the aquarium’s LED fixtures include more control, a longer life, less maintenance and reduced heat on the mechanical systems. All the lighting is attached to a digital and addressable control board, similar to how lighting fixtures would be controlled in a theatre.

“The dimming of the LEDs provides us with the ability to gradually fade the lighting over the tanks, mimicking a more natural daily cycle for the animals. Like humans, the animals’ circadian rhythms require the same triggers that tell them when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to sleep,” concludes Boken.

Many of the Mulvey & Banani team come from a background in the theatre, an experience which served them well on this particular project. The designers, in innovative fashion, approached each tank as an individual stage within a larger show. The goal was to create a natural sense of depth, as if the visitor was looking into a much larger body of water. During the design phase, each of the tanks had a scale model developed the same way a set designer would produce one for a theatrical show.

The finished museum, like any visitor attraction, is, in part, theatrical experience, an entertainment for holidaymakers and weekend tourists alike. But this is a project with animal welfare at its centre and the lighting scheme utlises the latest technology to ensure the aquarium’s full time residents are comfortable.




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