The New York Aquarium opened in 1896 in Battery Park’s Castle Clinton, filling the sandstone fort with specimens of marine life until it was expelled to Coney Island under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses in the 1950s. This week its spirit returns, revived in a carousel where visitors can ride inside 30 luminescent fish swimming in a glass spiral inspired by a nautilus shell.
The SeaGlass Carousel is a decade in the making, but after delays, the $16 million project from the Battery Conservancy in partnership with the NYC Department of Parks finally officially opens today. Some design elements altered over those ten years, with proposed projected fish swimming on the walls dropped along the way. Instead, the sides of the glass and steel structure, designed by WXY Architecture + Urban Design, are clear. To the south, riders can look to the New York Harbor and tourists lining up for the Statue of Liberty, and to the north, once the construction is completed on Battery Park, there’s a direct view up Broadway.
The fish were created by George Tsypin Opera Factory, which also designed the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Changing colors to reference marine bioluminescence, the sculptural fish range between 9.5 and 13.5 feet high, and represent 12 species, including angelfish and lionfish. Some move up and down while all revolve in a movement meant to feel organic through the use of four turntables. Here’s some footage of the ride in action:
“We cannot have fish and this underwater world move in the way of a traditional carousel,” George Tyspin explained at the preview. He added that “obviously you cannot ride a shark like a horse,” so each fish is a sort of capsule where you sit inside its fiberglass body. “They’re almost like little submarines,” he said. They feel synthetic enough that an adult might not be quite transported into the ocean, but for kids the unexpected motion of the ride and the creatively designed animals will likely have more of a pull on the imagination.
New York City already has some great historic carousels, like the 1922 Jane’s Carousel in its Jean Nouvel-designed box over in Brooklyn Bridge Park, or the 1930s B&B Carousell at Coney Island. What the city doesn’t have are public amusements like the SeaGlass Carousel that experiment with merging entertainment and art, something that will evolve over time as the carousel tries out different lights, music, and movement. It’s a new sort of “urban spectacle” as Tyspin put it, where a swirl of illuminated creatures rise and fall in a glass aquarium, evoking the one lost by Battery Park decades ago.
Here’s a video from a disorienting ride on the SeaGlass Carousel to give an idea of the experience:
The SeaGlass Carousel is open daily from 10 am to 10 pm in Battery Park, Lower Manhattan. On its opening day of August 20, it is running 1 pm to midnight. Rides are $5 each.