When Royal Caribbean—owner of the largest cruise ships in the world—unveiled its expanded terminal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, security consultants raised concerns over possible safety problems. The solution? Public art.

Originally opened in 1996, the terminal expanded from 67,500 to 240,000 square feet in 2009. Terminal 18 is the largest cruise terminal in the world built to serve a single ship: Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, itself the world’s largest cruise ship. Oasis typically carries more than 5,000 passengers (its capacity is over 6,000), consists of seven distinct neighborhoods, and boasts a Starbucks on board.

In the terminal serving Oasis, 12,000 visitors pass each week with their luggage from an unsecured ground level, through security, and up to a second level for boarding. With so much traffic, Port Security feared the open air between the unsecured lobby and the mezzanine would allow access for wrongdoers on the ground to toss explosives, guns, weapons, or other packages up to accomplices in the post-screening area. A call for artwork in the space required that a creative solution deter such activity. As soon as officials deemed the atrium a prime target for terrorist activity, they tried several solutions, including a tent company. As Royal Caribbean is known for commissioning artwork for its ships, they wanted to make the entire experience more artful. Enter Larry Kirkland, who had just completed a piece for the Ft. Lauderdale art commission.

In a swirl of sizes—22 feet high and 36 feet wide by 36 feet deep—Larry Kirkland’s Cruising School (above) casts a wide net across the space. Installed in 2012, the $605,000 piece was commissioned by Port Everglades and Broward County, and selected through the Broward County Cultural Division’s Public Art & Design Program.

Cut from enameled aluminum and suspended from a rotating oval bracket, 300 king mackerel and pompano cast shadows upon the walls as they spin on air currents. Floating among them are reflective acrylic “bubbles,” as well as a wave of solid acrylic rods gilded with 24 karat gold. The larger of two openings in the atrium is filled by the main fish portion of the sculpture, while the wave covers
the smaller opening.

An avid swimmer, artist Larry Kirkland “wanted the work to fulfill the security requirement but also to enhance the space and the experience of the thousands of passengers passing under the artwork.” After passing through security, these same passengers can view the piece from above, and, hopefully, be deterred from catching any fishy objects tossed from below.

Jen Dolen, a photographer and Forecast Public Art’s content + communications coordinator, is on the editorial team for Public Art Review.

From Public Art Review #51, where this article appeared as “From Security Risk to Flying Fish.”