Harbor Market Kitchen & Cafe

National Aquarium

Location Baltimore, MD

With over 1.4 million visitors each year and an average of 4,000 visitors per day, the National Aquarium’s existing café was not suited to the volume or demands of its visitors. In fact, during the original design of the aquarium facilities, a last minute decision was made to swap the location of the café from a much larger space on the second floor with the smaller gift shop space on the ground floor. As a result, the functionality and allure of the café was adversely affected from the outset with a smaller space, lower ceilings, limited visibility and lighting. The project presented multiple challenges in that it was a phased occupied construction process in a facility that is open 7 days a week.

The Aquarium asked the design team to:
• Reposition the café as a destination and give it a new identity, consistent with the quality of the nationally-recognized institution and its mission.
• Reorganize the café spaces to be more fluid, functional and rentable for special events.
• Incorporate the Aquarium’s sustainability goals by promoting biodegradable, compostable and recyclable materials and products.
• Support the Aquarium’s theme of encouraging visitors to make “thoughtful choices” with regard to healthier environments and lifestyles.
• Minimize disruption to aquarium wildlife, staff and steady flow of year-round visitors.

Design Solutions:
The architect engaged the Aquarium team – a multi-faceted client – working with its food service vendor and multiple departments including visitor services, rental and development, exhibit and design, operations and capital planning to develop a list of thoughts, priorities and concerns to phase overall improvements to minimize disturbance to the resident wildlife, visitors and staff.

The main café was fully renovated to improve its visibility and presence from both inside and outside of the facility. A wider entrance and new signage attracts visitors to the market, intuitively guiding them through the servery. The layout of the cafe was re-oriented for more effective queuing of guests as well as to provide new rentable space. A new feature wall simulates ripples of water with blue LED lighting and serves as the perfect backdrop for the café’s branded sign and dining areas. Circular buoys of light float above diners in a new lighting scheme that attracts attention to the dining areas from outside of the aquarium.

In order to celebrate the Aquarium’s theme of “Thoughtful Choices,” open kitchens and food prep areas allow visitors to see their meals being made with healthy, fresh and locally-sourced provisions. The selection and application of recyclable and renewable materials with energy efficient systems worked with the Aquarium’s mission of environmentally sensitive design. The Architect also designed and built elaborate recycling and compost collection bins that were graphically keyed to encourage visitors to reduce waste. The same branding elements are being applied to 4 other venues. Coupled with new biodegradable, compostable and recyclable containers, the Aquarium is well on its way toward achieving its goal of producing zero landfill waste.

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Project Details

Square Footage 6,400


Project Type



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