Earlier this month, a United Nations report offered an ominous analysis of human impact on the environment. “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely,” the report warned.

Mounting research highlighting concerns about the fate of our planet can create a sense of hopelessness. But visitors walking into the orientation gallery of Pacific Visions, the Aquarium of the Pacific’s new wing, are instead enveloped in the sheer beauty of nature and implored to consider their role in preserving it.

On a wall opposite the entrance, a 26-foot-wide LED screen radiates with brilliant images of deep blue oceans, bright green rice patties – perfectly arranged like the scales of a fish – and glowing desert dunes. On another, a glistening virtual waterfall invites onlookers to take a splash and watch animated schools of fish, guided by motion sensors, swim around their feet.

The orientation gallery serves as a holding space for groups of visitors entering the Honda Pacific Visions Theater. It also acts as a preface to the main film shown inside by introducing Pacific Visions’ three main topics: food, water and energy. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

The aquarium’s president and CEO, Dr. Jerry Schubel, knows that to preserve our planet’s future, it’s not enough to stoke fear of its demise. “All great stories follow the same story arc, where you drag people down into the pits of despair, but you don’t leave them there,” Schubel explained. Instead, he hopes that by showcasing the wealth of resources humans have been gifted with by their environment, the orientation gallery will help cultivate a desire to maintain it. “If there’s going to be a hero in this story, it’s going to be all of us,” he said.

The orientation gallery helps shape the overall experience that Schubel and the Pacific Visions team are hoping visitors of the new wing will walk away with. “It puts in perspective human beings and how we’ve modified the earth, but that we’re a creative, innovative species and it’s not too late to re-shape what we do,” he explained. A pre-show film, with colorful images of nature across the globe and a narration voiced by actor Keith David, prepares the audience for the main show to follow inside the Honda Pacific Visions Theater.

In addition to an introductory movie, the orientation gallery also features an interactive waterfall projection. Emblazoned with the name of the Aquarium’s new wing, the projection is designed to invite selfies and videos posted to social media, and help promote the newest addition to the Aquarium’s offerings. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

“It’s almost like a transition space between the art gallery and the theater. We use concepts from both areas,” Fahria Qader, director of Pacific Visions and architecture for the Aquarium, told the Business Journal. While the imagery flashing across the LED screen emulates the colorful exhibits of the art gallery, a narration toward the end of the film introduces visitors to the three main concepts covered by Pacific Visions: food, water and energy.

The decision to limit the narrative portion of the pre-show film to the last two minutes was made consciously, Qader explained. “You can’t get everyone in at the same time, so that’s why we developed the film to have more visuals in the beginning,” she said. “So that if they miss it, they wouldn’t be missing out on really important content.”

The architecture of the space reflects its transitional role. Walking across the room, one can sense the floor sloping down ever so slightly towards the doors leading into the Honda Pacific Visions Theater. “We wanted people to feel like they’re going deeper and deeper, to feel like they’re going into the ocean,” Qader said. Once the video concludes, the theater’s doors open, inviting a new group of guests into the big show.