Alaskan Adventure

Submitted by Matthew Placzek

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Client: Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Location: Omaha, NE, United States

Completion date: 2016

Project Team

Industry Resource

Kiewit

Industry Resource

How and Associates

Industry Resource

Larkin Aquatics

Industry Resource

Crystal Fountains

Industry Resource

Smith Bourne & Associates

Artist

Matthew Placzek

Placzek Studios Inc.

Overview

A bit of Alaska can be found in Omaha, Nebraska, thanks to “Alaskan Adventure,” a spectacular 18,625-square-foot splash park located at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. A symphony of sculpture and water, this aquatic art installation features 80 bronze sculptures: salmon, puffins, sea lions, brown bears, and orcas. Each animal exhibits a distinct personality. “Alaskan Adventure’s” centerpiece is a magnificent, 25-foot-tall bronze humpback whale. Hand-painted with a sea-blue patina, the whale depicts movement as it breaches upward. Water jets create the illusion of walking in the ocean, and the entire water park circulates 2,500 gallons of water per minute.

Goals

The objective of “Alaskan Adventure” was to offer children an educational, interactive experience as they learned about Alaskan wildlife. This goal was achieved in a variety of ways. For example, the entire park resonates with amplified sounds of each animal, and, coupled with the echoes of splashing water, visitors are quickly immersed in the glorious Alaskan wilderness. In addition, being able to touch and examine the life-sized animal sculptures lets children make a hands-on connection with the beauty found in our 49th state. Another key aspiration of the project was for visitors to understand the dramatic size differences among the various wildlife. From the enormous humpback whale to the pint-sized puffins, the visual sense of scale is dramatic and breathtaking. And that sense of scale extends to humans as well, as they visualize their own place within this vast Alaskan wilderness. Beautifully combining sculpture, water, touch, sight and sound, this unique art installation brings to Middle America the essence of a land 2,000 miles away.

Process

Taking almost two years to complete, “Alaskan Adventure” is the result of vision, creativity and teamwork. Architects, engineers, sound experts, and aquatics designers collaborated with the artist to create the dazzling interactive installation. The original project began with a simpler design, but grew to include 80 bronze sculptures. Large or small, each animal was sculpted by hand and given a distinct personality. When the sculpting process was completed, each sculpture was divided into separate pieces and molded, using a thin layer of rubber. Each was then cast in bronze, using the 2,000-year-old “lost wax” process, and welded back together. Weighing 15,000 pounds, the humpback whale was created from 187 pieces of cast bronze and welded together with a stainless-steel internal structure. At the zoo, each piece was carefully placed in its new home, with cranes used to hoist into place the bears, sea lions and whales. Engineers and aquatics experts worked together to conceptualize and install the elaborate water lines and a state-of-the-art, computerized spray system throughout the park. The humpback whale alone houses 30 different intricately woven water lines. Designers also created the splashing effect around the whales, accentuating the wilderness environment and an illusion of movement.