Most Innovative Decorative Glass Project, Commercial Interior

Aquarium of the Pacific, GlasPro Inc.

Photos by Jim Hellemn

Visitors to the Long Beach, Calif., Aquarium of the Pacific gift shop now have the chance to experience a marine ecosystem without even getting their feet wet. The shop’s glass wall utilizes a high-resolution digital image to create a panoramic view of an actual kelp forest off the California coast. Comprised of twenty six 12-foot-tall laminated glass panels, the wall features a composite digital photograph of marine life in its natural environment, and spans some 100 feet. Different techniques were used to photograph and create individual composite images of the kelp forest background, mid-field and foreground areas. The finished composite images were then stitched together in a master photo-composite. The final image consists of more than 1,200 underwater photos.

“I was really excited when the Aquarium of the Pacific asked me to create the image for the kelp forest glass wall project,” says photographer Jim Hellemn, whose work has appeared in National Geographic and the American Museum of Natural History. “Doing an extreme resolution composite photograph of a kelp forest is something I have long wanted to do just for the challenge; it’s like the holy grail of the kind of images I strive to create.”

The resulting combination of digital photography and laminated glass gives viewers the sensation of free-diving the kelp forest without ever having to leave the shore, according to GlasPro, the decorative glass fabricator for the project.

The glass wall posed a number of unique challenges. Beginning with development and production of the digital imagery, and carrying through to the completion of bending, tempering, fabrication and lamination, GlasPro’s technical acumen was crucial to realizing the architect’s vision, it reports.

“Photo imaging on glass is tough to do really well,” says Glass Magazine Award Judge Rob Botman, general manager, Glassopolis. “It’s difficult to get the resolution you need in the photos. In this project, the quality of the art and strong conceptual design make the whole project exceptional.”

Giroux Glass was the contract glazier for the glass wall installation. The architect was EHDD Esherick Homsey Dodge & Davis, and the general contractor was TG Construction. Kawneer Co., supplied the 1600 Wall System.