Los Angeles Is Converting An Abandoned Dock Into A Huge Ocean Research Center

AltaSea, a center for ocean research and startups, will be built for a new 21st-century economy based around sustainability and learning.

At the busiest shipping port in the U.S., a wharf filled with abandoned warehouses will be converted into a research institute for sustainable aquaculture, underwater robotics, and ocean exploration.


City Dock 1, in Los Angeles, was built a century ago, when the Panama Canal first opened and the city wanted to take advantage of the new trade route. At the time, the buildings–and the rail lines that came directly to the dock–were state of the art. But because the dock was built on landfill, it wasn’t strong enough to be used after container shipping became common in the 1960s.


Because it can’t be used for shipping, the city decided to turn it into a massive marine research center on prime oceanfront property that scientists and startups otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

“It was the dream of Los Angeles to become the biggest port in the world because of the Panama Canal, and they did,” says Jenny Krusoe, executive director of AltaSea, the new institute. “The dream of AltaSea is to become the port of the 21st century, and export ideas, which is kind of the commerce of the 21st century.”

The campus will eventually include seawater labs, classrooms, offices, and a massive seawater wave tank for studying tsunamis and rogue waves. Gensler, the architects, recently released renderings of the design.


“We wanted it to be an incredibly sustainable campus,” says Gensler CEO Andy Cohen. “It’s net positive, meaning that it’s actually giving energy back to the grid.” The campus will run on a combination of solar, wind, and wave power, and will use seawater to help keep the buildings cool.

Twenty two universities and colleges, along with private companies and nonprofits, will research solutions to energy, food, climate security, and issues such as conservation and plastic pollution. “It’s a different model,” Krusoe says. “We’re bringing together the best of the best from different sectors to work together on an equal basis.”


In the first stage of the development, one main focus will be aquaculture. Catalina Sea Ranch, the first company to get permission to get permits for aquaculture on federal land, will be headquartered there. They’ll be partnered with researchers, and organizations that offer education programs in aquaculture.

Gensler | DKa

The center will also focus on underwater robotics, where companies and researchers develop new technology to research melting glaciers, map the ocean, or find planes that crash in the water.

As research evolves, so will the center. “We’re preparing a flexible campus–flexible for what we find when we explore the ocean,” she says. “There are going to be new challenges because only 5% is explored.”

AltaSea also aims to act as an education hub, helping inspire kids in nearby neighborhoods–many of whom have never even seen the ocean–to consider careers in research. Labs are walled in glass, so visitors can watch researchers work. Another hub has a walkway above it.

In the center of the campus, a tower inspired by a local lighthouse will give visitors a view, while generating wind and solar power and using sensors on the top to gather data for researchers. “From this lighthouse you’ll be able to see everywhere to the port,” says Cohen. “The idea was for people to get above and experience the sea and the water from above and understand the scale of what we’re talking about.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.