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A rendering of an underwater glass tunnel with sea life visible swimming around and above the people in the tunnel.

Photo by: © Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Thinc/Valerio Dewalt Train

Evolving the Aquarium Experience

A Reimagination and Ignition

Looking nature in the eye has never been more necessary or powerful. We know that when people experience animals, it motivates an emotional, empathetic response that shifts attitudes and fosters a personal sense of responsibility for local waters, global oceans, and wildlife. We also know that in an age of increased urbanization, greater opportunity must exist to provide connections and interactions with nature by reaching people in more personally and culturally relevant ways.

As such, Shedd Aquarium is making a significant and expansive investment in the reimagination of its historic galleries, programs, and exhibits to be more robustly immersive, participatory and science-rich to engage hearts, inspire minds, and ignite senses. By bringing guests closer to animals and providing novel views of animal behaviors and adaptations we will transform the visitor experience into a more dynamic experience for our guests.

Amplifying Equitable Opportunities to Access & Participation

Breaking Barriers, Becoming an Aquarium for All

We will make the aquarium a place of inclusion with significantly reduced economic, cultural, social, intellectual, and geographic barriers aimed to welcome and inspire people of all backgrounds and abilities.

We recognize clear and systemic gaps in access to nature and educational opportunities that impact marginalized groups, particularly Black and Latinx communities in Chicago, and are committed to ensuring equitable opportunities to experience the aquatic world for every Chicagoan. With ongoing guidance from those most impacted by systemic inequities we will transform the Shedd experience to ensure a place of belonging through new equity and universal design frameworks to ensure all guests — regardless of race, ethnicity, age, size, ability, and individual learning differences — can access, understand and participate in every moment possible.

A large, open-plan learning space where people meet animals, attend a projected presentation, and do workshops at rows of desks.

© Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Valerio Dewalt Train/Visualized Concepts

A 3D rendering of a busy learning space featuring many learning stations in a large, open area overlooking the Chicago skyline.

© Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Valerio Dewalt Train/Visualized Concepts

A Gateway to Participation

The New Learning Commons

Through a new and permanent Learning Commons, Shedd and our partners will catalyze possibilities for education and action, breathing life into learning for thousands more students and future conservation champions each year while ensuring equitable access to nature and the aquatic world for every Chicagoan.

Shedd Aquarium has long been a vital partner to schools and families in Chicago and across the nation. But we must do more and go farther to ensure that every young person can develop a personal connection to the natural environment as they awaken their own significant potential to change the world. Starting right here on the shores of the Great Lakes and equipped with the scientific literacy, empathy and 21st-century skills needed to solve real-world environmental problems, we know an investment in these students can contribute to a wider solution to address disparities in access to nature and educational opportunity that disproportionately impact under-resourced communities here in our city and across the nation.

Through the creation of an expansive new experiential hub and curiosity incubator, the Learning Commons at the historic core of the aquarium will unlock significant new ways to exponentially increase learning offerings and ensure every student in Chicago sees the lake as part of their own Chicago identity. With the goal of increasing the total number of students engaged at Shedd from 180,000 to beyond 230,000 annually, this technologically savvy, flexible space will serve as a launchpad to learning. Shedd Aquarium is of the community, and the Learning Commons will reflect that as a space for neighbors to curate, collaborate and co-own with us. With views overlooking Lake Michigan and the city skyline, the space will serve as a primary point of welcome for students and groups, and an essential stop on their learning journey.

Guests sit and stand by a large, lushy-planted freshwater fish habitat.

Photo by: © Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Thinc/Visualized Concepts/Valerio Dewalt Train

Advancing Animal Care & Welfare

Enhanced Capacity and Science at the Center

We will expand our capacity to help animals in need, increase knowledge-sharing and understanding of species globally, and protect biodiversity through collaborative restoration, rewilding, and rescue.

With a new state-of-the art Science Hub, specialized programs for animal welfare, unprecedented population sustainability goals, and new, expansive habitats and specialized water systems, we will model how collaborative and sustainable an aquarium can be. We will expand our capacity to care for animals which cannot thrive in the wild, like rescues and confiscations​, increase our capacity for head-start programs  for struggling populations and augment the sustainability of aquatic life in our care and around the globe through increasingly advanced contributions to aquaculture, including sustainable food.

Additionally, five scientific laboratories that integrate studies from microbial ecology and water chemistry to pathology and genome research will be centralized with Shedd’s full-service hospital and state-of-the-art analytical capacities to allow for greater intention and proximity of work to create cutting-edge conservation science.

The aquarium’s onsite reimagination will also include increased water volumes, more complex and larger ecosystems and improved back-of-house animal care spaces to provide the greatest and most modernized support that allows for thriving and healthy animals, species and habitats.

A rendering of the west side of Shedd Aquarium featuring a new entry pavilion surrounded by lush gardens.

© Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Valerio Dewalt Train and Visualized Concepts

A view of Shedd Aquarium from above with a new, large entry pavilion attached to the building's south side.

© Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Valerio Dewalt Train and Visualized Concepts

Expanded Access and Arrival

Stress-Free, Seamless, Secure & Joyfully Welcoming

New entry and ticketing pavilions will offer a more seamless and streamlined arrival and start to a visit that is physically accessible for all.

New, highly functional entry and ticketing pavilions will augment Shedd’s current Accessible Entrance, accelerating the start of the aquarium experience and creating a sense of wonder from the moment guests arrive. Participatory programs, animal encounters and facilitated experiences will punctuate the newly activated entry and will be available to everyone, regardless of if they are planning to visit Shedd that day or not.

Guests headed into the building for a visit will enjoy expedited and automated ticket and security scanning amenities. Additionally, the enhanced entry will enable new interior circulation pathways that will significantly improve Shedd’s accessibility by reducing the number of transitions between the various levels and areas of the aquarium. Beyond providing guests with multiple options regarding where they can start their journey, these changes are intentionally focused on making navigation easier and more efficient for guests with strollers, wheelchairs and other mobility needs.”

An aerial view of the lush gardens planned to surround Shedd's proposed new entry pavilion.

Photo by: © Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Valerio Dewalt Train and Visualized Concepts

Creating a Campus Commons

Activating Green Space, Nature Play and Community Spaces

We will mobilize the four acres of green space around the building into a living area that celebrates and activates our natural environment, making it more inclusive and interactive for all visitors, as well as a vibrant habitat for local species and migrating bird and insect populations.

The four acres of green space around the building — equivalent to 40 Chicago backyards — offer a myriad of possibility to serve as a living classroom while extending the aquarium’s conservation efforts. New and reinvigorated spaces will offer everything from a celebration of natural splendor to a comfortable place where guests can view the profound meeting of land and water. Increasing these direct connections to nature as well as biodiversity at all levels will bolster resilience on the lakefront while adding experiential value and environmental improvements.

Aquatic symbols mark the time in the clock in Shedd's lobby, an example of the building's Beaux-Arts style.

Honoring Historical Integrity While Augmenting for the Needs of Today

Through our onsite reimagination we will merge new, intuitive, breathtaking design to encourage an engaging environment while honoring and celebrating Shedd’s history via the current building’s unmistakable architecture.

Opened in 1930, Shedd Aquarium was crafted in the classical Beaux-Arts style and uses white marble and terra cotta features to create an elegant, distinguished presence. At the time, Shedd Aquarium was cutting edge and one of the city’s most famous and well-regarded architectural achievements. The facility includes various homages to aquatic life, from marine fossils in the limestone floor to Neptune’s trident capping the glass dome. By expanding on this already-beautiful setting, the aquarium’s new design will create a more inclusive environment that will provide an immediately welcoming atmosphere for all our guests and reflect — and embrace — a much wider experience.

This onsite metamorphosis will once again make Shedd Aquarium state-of-the-art for the guest visit and for the experts who are advancing Shedd’s impact across the Great Lakes and around the world. We will augment the building’s timeless appearance with leading-edge design that harmoniously blends with the sublime natural scenery that surrounds it, while also bringing attention to details such as original views of the lake and skyline through the re-opening of historic windows, creating visual emphasis on Kovler Hall’s mosaics and coffered ceiling, and forming more welcoming and unobstructed public access to the building’s original exterior promenade and garden spaces.  

Two of the aquarium’s terraces will also be restored. The North Terrace, which dates back to the opening of the historic building in 1930, will receive some much needed repair and will be expanded by an additional 10 feet. This restoration will not only improve safety and structural integrity for generations to come — the additional space beneath will also house necessary new animal habitats and critical husbandry support systems. Shedd plans to add a four-season glass pavilion over the existing Sick Family Lakeside Terrace, providing year-long access to unobscured views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline. Aside from making Lake Michigan more accessible, even during inclement weather, the pavilion would nearly double the seating capacity for school visits, events and more.

Sparking Economic Opportunity

Our Diverse Workforce Commitment

The realization of Shedd Aquarium’s Centennial Commitment through the reimagination of its historic home is not only an investment in the future of our blue planet but also an investment in Chicago and its communities.

It is estimated that this transformational project will support the generation of more than 1,700 statewide jobs and create more than $340 million in statewide economic activity through construction, helping to fuel our city’s economic recovery, mobility, and future revitalization. After ribbon cutting, the aquarium’s total economic impact is estimated to approach $410 million annually, serving a minimum of 1.5 million more guests and 160,000 more school children by 2030.

A large part of this economic vision includes the organization’s self-imposed goals to award subcontracting packages to diverse vendors of at least 26 percent and 6 percent MBE/WBE vendors, as well as 50 percent of total onsite labor work hours to Chicago residents with half those hours being combined minority and female workforce. Additionally, three percent of the total onsite combined laborers and/or non-trade work hours will be with community residents with preference given to those who reside in Chicago’s 4th Ward and the surrounding neighborhoods of Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Museum Campus, North Kenwood, Oakland and the South Loop.


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