Deep-Sea Immersion

light up jellyfish.

An ocean-themed pop-up exhibit meant to delight—and drive change.

It’s an Instagrammable, bioluminescent, deep-sea world. In the middle of Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.

“Ocean Cube,” an immersive, 2,000-square-foot pop-up exhibit, invites visitors to explore the beauty of undersea life—and challenges them to consider how to live more sustainably.

“The ocean is pretty distant from the general population; we put together this show to connect people to it,” says Ocean Cube co-designer Randy Fernando, who is a graduate of the University at Buffalo and an adjunct instructor in the School of Architecture and Planning. “The cause and effect of our lifestyle doesn’t resonate with many people because they don’t see the effect firsthand that often. But we have a crisis on our hands. It’s critical that the problem gets exposed, and that we’re working toward solving it.”

Going deeper

Visitors to “Ocean Cube” move through each of the exhibit’s five themed rooms in sequence: the Coral Tunnel, with its canopy of touchable 3D coral reef models; Net Guard, where shining buoys hung from above; Jellyfish Station, a deep-ocean transport hub; and the bubble-filled Bubble Mall. But the final room, called Recycle Bank, in which more than 1,000 plastic bottles—and counting—dangle from the ceiling, is the most poignant.

“The contrast from the playful to the reflective really shocks people,” Fernando explains. “They come out talking about recycling, waste and how we need to do better. They also come out conflicted because sometimes they’ve entered the space with a plastic bottle of their own. That internal conflict is the stepping stone to getting others to create change.”

Built in Buffalo

Construction of “Ocean Cube” took about five months to complete. Several weeks of that were spent at UB, between the School of Architecture and Planning’s Fabrication Workshop (where Fernando had worked as a student) and the Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART) Fabrication Factory.

Working with UB consultants, Fernando and his co-designers meticulously crafted each component of the exhibit by hand, from strands of warm pink bubbles and spindly jellyfish to a huge steel whale illuminated by hundreds of lights. “Everything was custom made,” notes Dan Vrana, a SMART Fabrication Factory technician. “There was no part of it they just took out of a box.”

The exhibit has made quite a splash in SoHo, bringing in thousands of visitors, who in turn have posted countless selfies to social media. Next up for the magical seascape? “I would love to see it move to other locations,” says Fernando, “and generate a conversation wherever it is housed.”

See inside the exhibit