How can we create an eco-friendly lake attraction that promotes sustainability and preserves life below water?


The Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota draws over 100000 visitors and residents each summer, with 450 lakes and over 90 resorts and hotels along with family-size cabins populating the area. There’s no shortage of people who enjoy activities on and around our lakes, but there’s a need for more education and encouragement to act when it comes to the health and preservation of the lakes and the species within them. Pollution, the threat of invasive species like zebra mussels, and the need to enjoy the lakes in an environmentally sustainable way are all relevant topics relating to Life Below Water that must be illuminated. There will also always be a desire for memorable activities for tourists on rainy days, and as such, an eco-conscious aquarium would be a welcome addition. 




In looking to design an aquarium that has the ability to impart an ecological message while also drawing a crowd, I investigated what makes such an attraction effective and memorable. The following needs are model of case studies including Den Blå Planet in Denmark, notable for it’s architectural spectacle, and the more local Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN, notable for its local popularity and environmental message. All of the following have been included in some way in the final design.

  • Rain cover, as we plan to draw the greatest numbers on days when weather discourages people from spending their vacation day outdoors
  • A circulation consisting of halls with typical aquarium tanks and presentation interrupted by more organized sections where you pause to listen to a lecture or do some interactive activity (the following will all be components of this layout):
    • Interactive learning, which according to interviews and studies is more engaging and memorable in most cases. Touch pools, feedings, discussions, games, volunteer activities out on the lake, etc… 
    • Guided learning, via our theaters, presentations, demos, and guided volunteer help activities that teach and practice how to enjoy the lakes while supporting environmental health
    • More traditional aquarium spectacles, as impressive as possible
  • Dining that keeps the nautical theme
  • Restrooms
  • Docks for excursion activities and volunteering as well as the potential to arrive at the facility by boat
    • Water access–the lake we would plan to build on is one of the largest and is actively used along its entire perimeter
  • Place to sign up for such activities, surrounded by banners and advertisements for exhibits and excursions and ideally at the end of circulation so that one will by then be convinced
  • A gift shop and ice cream stand for such an area at the end of the experience as well
  • Ice fishing exhibit (for reasons to be clarified below)



A view of the Brainerd Lakes Area:

This is a fairly central location with respect to the most concentrated areas for vacation cabins in the wider Brainerd area, and is positioned along a highly trafficked roadway that runs the length of the region, so that the facility is conveniently accessible to the most people possible. We would construct a new off ramp from the highway into our parking lot on the artificial landmass.

Due to the scarcity of dry land in this stretch between the lakes, and the presence of already established vacation space, almost all of the facility would have to be constructed over water—partially creating more artificial land space and partially by supporting floating parts of the structure—but this suits our purposes. While the construction of a facility on this scale almost entirely over an existing body of water is ambitious and will take several years, I believe this to be the most optimal site choice for this project.

Additionally, there is an annual ice fishing competition that regularly draws >10000 competitors on Hole-in-the-Day lake across the road, so placing the facility at this point along the highway and including something like an ice fishing-related exhibit could potentially capitalize on the popularity of that event.



The following are a series of floor plan sketches from several points throughout the design process. I iterated the design several times, incorporating feedback from my peers according to the 6-Step Design process


The following are a floor plan and exterior drawing of my design for an aquarium on Gull Lake. Within the floor plan and its legend there are elements that address every need I have outlined so far.

320ft across from left to right eating areas; everything is to scale. Upon being dropped off or parking, the users’ circulation through the building would likely be generally circular going clockwise such that they begin and end the experience at the shore (since there is no possible exit otherwise, and a long boring walk backwards would be less than ideal), where we would also construct a place for parking. The left and right “wings” of the building would contain different exhibits and almost be considered different experiences, such that even if the entry point is the far dock, a visitor can choose to experience one or two “semicircles” of exhibits and pass by dining and end up in a suitable ending location with a gift shop and the opportunity to continue the experience with an outdoor excursion.



Please respond to the following questions in the comments below, and think about how your community may be able to educate people about similar environmental issues.


  • What topics relating to freshwater species and/or environmental health do you think would be important for an attraction like this to bring attention to?


  • In what ways do you think the design of this facility could better promote Life Under Water, Sustainable Consumption and Production, and Climate Action?


  • In what ways does this design succeed in promoting Life Under Water, Sustainable Consumption and Production, and Climate Action?


  • What places in your community have been effective in spreading awareness and an environmental message, and why do you think they were so effective?


  • How memorable do you think a visit to this aquarium would be? What makes an experience memorable for you?



To my Catalyst Project Google Doc

Share this project
  1. April 24, 2020 by Ahmad Rasheed

    I am 100% impressed by your work! This is something I have not seen in any other project. Your planning and sketches make it look like something from the future, something we only see in science fiction movies. It seems that you have thought of everything from the parking lot and bathrooms to gift shops, rest areas, and educational places. I would’ve hoped to see a SketchUp model but I know that would require too much time an effort for a structure like yours. Fantastic work!

  2. April 24, 2020 by Ahmad Rasheed

    I am 100% impressed by this work. I have not seen any work like it from all the projects I looked at. It seems so futuristic like something you only see in science fiction movies. I can tell the great amount of work you put into it from your planning and sketches. You have thought of everything from parking lot and bathrooms to educational spaces, a gift shop, and a restaurant. Fantastic work!

  3. April 25, 2020 by Michelle Zhang

    Hey Taggert! This project is really detailed and unique. I love your final design, and how every aspect of it relates back to the original purpose of the building. You were very thorough in your work, and I can tell that you spent a lot of time on this. I could definitely see this eco-conscious aquarium becoming a large attraction, if it were built. Great work!

  4. April 25, 2020 by Annie Manassee

    Hey Taggert! This project is amazing! It is clear how much effort and hard work you have put into this project. I really enjoy your sketches, they clearly lay out what your visions are and provide additional text to help the viewer understand. Responding to your question, I believe that a visit to this aquarium would be extremely memorable. I think the architecture and design of the structure itself is very unique. I really like how you have designed the structure to be circular, I think that that was very smart. Although there are no SketchUp models, I can clearly see what your structure will look like through your sketches, that are amazing! Great work!

  5. April 26, 2020 by Hannah Sun

    [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “Pending Moderation”. Reason: Whoops. Google reCAPTCHA was not submitted. *]
    Hi Taggert! I really enjoyed seeing the development of your project from nearly Day 1 and I am so impressed by how far it has come. Your final design was complex yet your labels did a really good job of explaining all the details. Great job!

  6. April 26, 2020 by Hannah Sun

    Hi Taggert! I really enjoyed seeing the development of your project from nearly Day 1 and I am so impressed by how far it has come. Your final design was complex yet your labels did a really good job of explaining all the details. Great job!

  7. April 26, 2020 by Caroline W

    This is a really cool project, and an even cooler building. It looks super space age (like it should be on mars or something) and I think it’s cool that its a building for a lake…. on a lake. Good job!

  8. April 26, 2020 by Siya Anish

    Hi Taggert, your project is really different and it is quite a unique idea. Your sketches are amazing, they are extremely clear and there is a lot of detail in them as well. And to answer the question regarding what makes an experience memorable, I believe that it is actually the overall space, the unique and unalike shape, or experiences that are incorporated into the structure. Your idea is very innovative and it is extremely clear that you have spent quite a lot of time with this project.

  9. April 27, 2020 by Austin Jones

    Taggert, this is so cool! I love that you really took the time to think about how movement would factor into the design of your building. Creating a circular structure addressed needs for an interesting exhibit, while also making the building so much more visually interesting. Nice job!

  10. April 27, 2020 by Hailey Dondis

    Hey Taggert, This is a real out-of-the-box design you have come up with! I think that the idea of having it actually on the water and not the shore is a great way to attract people to the lake. The building’s fun and interesting design is sure to attract people to the Gull Lake area. Great job!

  11. April 27, 2020 by Derek Foyt

    Amazing work! Each sketch and model keep impressing me. I had thought about trying to tackling a project similar to this but you really blew it out of the water. No pun intended!

  12. April 27, 2020 by Mais

    Hi Taggert, I am really impressed by your work for the catalyst conference. I think that your design really helps bring awareness to the pollution that is being thrown into the lakes. The way you designed your aquarium is very unique, and I thing that its structure could have a lot of benefits in the environment it’s in as the people visiting the aquarium have better access to views of the lake, which can help spread awareness of the pollution even better. Great job!

  13. April 27, 2020 by Fay Aljasem

    Hello Taggert, your work is really good! I really enjoy your design and how you kept in mind the audience that you’re going to have. The shape and characteristics of your building are really unique and really give to the whole project. Your idea is really new, innovative, and unique; I love how you really brought it to life with your sketches and models.

  14. April 27, 2020 by Richard

    Hi, Taggert. Your project is amazing!!! Especially your sketches, which not only show the necessary information clients need to know but also gives us an great impression of your art ability.

  15. April 28, 2020 by Sarah Rose

    Hey Taggert, I’m so happy to see the wonderful final product here after watching the process. I think your design is very unique and engaging, which makes it super memorable. I think it’s wonderful how you managed to tie in the sustainability goals so well with this project and you did an excellent job. Awesome work!

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