Oh the Fun Zone Possibilities: Interns Design their take on ExplorOcean

Cal Poly LPA Architecture InternBy Guest Blogger Michelle Loeb, Professional Studio Intern

Ferris wheels, balboa bars, frozen bananas, bumper cars and arcade games, craving the Balboa Fun Zone yet? ExplorOcean is located on a beautiful waterfront site, with lovely weather and views to Newport Bay where one can see sailboats cruising through the harbor out to sea. Newport Beach is known for its annual boat parade and affluent community; there is an abundance of nautical interest. What a place for a nautical museum.

For our final Professional Studio Program internship project, we were tasked with creating our own design for the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum’s new ExplorOcean museum. Here’s what we came up with.


We want ExplorOcean to become an iconic feature of Newport Beach while respecting the historic nature of the site. Looking at the iconic aspects of the immediate area, the Balboa Pavilion (built in 1906), the Balboa Island Ferry (built in1919) and Ruby’s diner on Balboa Pier (added to the 1906 pier in 1982), we drew a connection between the three and generated a distinct line through our site influencing our building form and design. The Balboa Fun Zone holds a dear place in the hearts of visitors and locals alike. We incorporated the classic attractions while providing an exciting oceanic experience.

First and foremost the building is a nautical museum: a place to celebrate the historical and modern aspects of exploration and to excite minds for the future of this type of investigation. Our form was created to emulate the body of alluring water that provides endless exploration. We gained inspiration from the motion water takes as a boat passes through it. Cal Poly Pomona LPA Architecture InternThe boat, in our building’s case, is an approach—an experience of becoming engulfed in the building. Visitors journey through the waves of our form, viewing glimpses of what is to come in the museum. The journey ends with the ultimate reward, priceless views of Newport Bay.

The client, Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, wants more than a museum, they want to give back to the community and educate young minds about the wonders of exploration. They desired a design that would revitalize the area and attract visitors—old and new.

One of the biggest site challenges is simply that there is no ‘back side’. So how does one provide service access to the building? We overcame this challenge by separating many of the service components to the building edge that fronts a dead-end street. The opposite side of the site is adjacent to the ferry terminal to Balboa Island, a great way to have onlookers enjoy ExplorOcean, but also a traffic issue often with a large queue. This constraint was addressed by our unique pedestrian approach through our building.

The site is oriented so that the northern face of our building is directed toward the waterfront, a rare opportunity for the west coast. We allowed glazing to be the dominant material on the waterfront side to provide soft northern daylight and to give onlookers visual interaction—from the exterior spaces to the interior ones. Electronically controlled operable windows allow for night and day ventilation, as needed. A gabion wall on the southern face of the building provides thermal mass to cool interior spaces during the day and warm them at night. Photovoltaic panels help to offset the building’s energy needs.

ExplorOcean is more than a museum; it is a place to excite all senses and ages in nautical exploration. By creating an immersive, interactive experience of nautical exploration, ExplorOcean will educate many about the mysterious ever-changing ocean for years to come. It’s a legacy Newport Beach will be proud to leave for future generations.

For more information about the LPA-Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Professional Studio Program, e-mail dgilmore[at]lpainc[dot]com.