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Draper Journal

Draper skyline to feature U2’s former tour stage at Aquarium

Oct 10, 2019 10:54AM ● By Katherine Weinstein

A view of the Ecosystem Exploration Craft and Observatory (EECO) being installed on the grounds of Loveland Living Planet Aquarium (Photo courtesy Loveland Living Planet Aquarium)

By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]

Children will soon learn about the natural world and engage in creative play under the soaring stage structure which once echoed with the music of U2 on their acclaimed 360° tour. U2’s massive outdoor stage, formerly known as “the Claw,” has been permanently installed as the new Ecosystem Exploration Craft and Observatory (EECO) at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium (LLPA.) 

The structure was erected on the nine-acre lot south of the main building as part of Loveland Living Planet Aquarium’s Science Learning Campus expansion. “We always wanted an iconic landmark to punctuate how excited we are about our mission,” said Heather Doggett, vice president of operations. 

As Brent Andersen, aquarium founder and CEO, summed up, the mission of the aquarium is “to inspire people to explore, discover and learn about Earth’s diverse ecosystems,” and to understand that all are interconnected as one global ecosystem, the living planet. 

In experiencing the sense of wonder and awe inspired by the massive EECO, “we want to get people thinking about what it means to be involved in something bigger than yourself,” said Doggett. 

The logistical challenge

EECO has changed the skyline of the Salt Lake Valley. It stands at 165 feet tall, which is the height of Niagara Falls. In its original incarnation as a stage, EECO was built to be taken down and moved to stadiums around the world. To install it permanently in Utah presented a unique engineering challenge as the structure needed to be stable in high winds and other weather conditions. Seismic issues were also taken into consideration.

LLPA worked with engineering teams from the US and Europe on this project, including the groups who originally designed and built EECO, to convert it into a permanent structure. A member of the team who traveled with U2 to oversee its construction in different venues came to Draper to help with its installation. Multiple cranes were involved in a carefully choreographed simultaneous lift to get the pieces of EECO installed. 

The entire project is actually a giant example of recycling and repurposing, an endeavor that falls in line with the aquarium’s mission to champion stewardship of the planet. EECO is comprised of 200 tons of steel. By re-using the structure, building materials, resources and energy were conserved. 

According to statistics set forth by the World Steel Association, approximately 1.9 million tons of carbon emissions are created during the production of one ton of steel. In re-purposing the Claw into EECO instead of building something new, the aquarium prevented 760,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

Turning EECO into an educational exhibition space

With EECO now in place, new interactive themed exhibits to encourage science exploration and play in a botanical setting will be constructed underneath and around it. The exhibits and play areas will be focused on concepts such as curiosity, connections and choices. 

In the “curiosity” section, visitors will explore a world of microscopic creatures made larger than life and enjoy a coral community play area. A feature exhibit on artists and musicians who are inspired by nature is also planned. 

The “connections” exhibit area will focus on the interconnection of ecosystems. A giant water cycle will demonstrate how we are all connected by water and how that resource is the key to survival in Utah. Another planned exhibit and play area will show how the natural world is connected through species migration. 

Visitors will be invited to make a choice about the future they want to see and reflect on how they are part of the ecosystem in the “choices” exhibit area. “We want to create a peaceful, hopeful space including a zen garden,” Doggett said. “People will be pleasantly surprised at how the outdoor educational exhibits illustrate our commitment to our mission.” 

The EECO Command Center will be constructed directly beneath the center of the structure. Planned for completion later in 2020, the Command Center will provide interactive, ecology-themed experiences using virtual reality technology. Visitors will embark upon voyages exploring different aspects of science, from venturing into a rainforest, outer space or the inside of a cell.

A new era for Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

EECO and its associated exhibits will be part of a larger campus, which will eventually include a new welcome center, a plaza that will serve as a community gathering place and a new 90,000-square-foot Science Learning Center. The goal is to have the plaza completed by next spring while the welcome center could be ready as early as this winter. 

“What we are creating is much more than an aquarium,” said Andersen via press release. “The Science Learning Campus will be a community gathering place, a research center and entrepreneur space, and it will inspire future generations of scientists.” 

LLPA invites the public to support their expansion efforts by visiting Bricks and plaques are available to help fund the plaza. For naming and sponsorship opportunities, contact [email protected]. Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is located at 12033 Lone Peak Parkway, Draper, UT 84020