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Shedd Aquarium Reveals Planned Exterior Enhancements for Greater Accessibility, Nature Access and Historic Preservation

Outdoor improvements within the aquarium’s 4-year transformation and restoration project set for city input Feb. 9

February 02, 2022

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

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

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

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

CHICAGO (Feb. 2, 2022) – On the heels of announcing its significant new 2030 Centennial Commitment, Shedd Aquarium today unveiled more details about proposed exterior improvements within its planned 4-year, onsite transformation and restoration project.

“Shedd Aquarium’s interior has long been a gateway to nature, bringing guests eye-to-eye with animals from across the globe, and we have an opportunity to bring that same wonder and excitement outside of our walls,” said Meghan Curran, Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at Shedd Aquarium. “Our Centennial Commitment includes updates to our entryway, terraces and natural spaces, all of which will enable vibrant, animal-first programming to spill out beyond our doors – experiences that will be made available to anyone visiting Museum Campus.”

The aquarium’s exterior adjustments set the stage for nature play, greater physical accessibility and the much-needed restoration of Shedd’s historic terraces. The plan is set for input by the City’s Committee on Design on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

An Activated and Enhanced Entry

Shedd Aquarium recognizes that most of today’s guests walk up to the aquarium from the south and west side of Museum Campus, arriving at the Accessible Entrance. Emphasizing this flow, the aquarium will augment this entrance to create new entry and ticketing pavilions, built on the existing sidewalk, to joyfully welcome guests and Museum Campus visitors. 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.

“Shedd’s new pavilions will create a circular gathering space, enveloping guests around an iconic fountain,” said Sarah Hezel, Vice President of Design and Exhibits at Shedd Aquarium. “What was simply a point of entry will become a much more inclusive and dynamic space – imagine the splashing sounds of our Man with Fish fountain as Shedd staff introduce the public to ambassador animals like a green-winged macaw or Blanding’s turtle. Around the corner you may see someone playing in the gardens, watching native pollinators making homes in Shedd’s hives or taste organically grown produce that we feed our animals.”

Guests headed inside for a visit will enjoy new improvements to the entryway that will create a more seamless and streamlined start to their visit, including automated security and an expedited ticket-scanning process.

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.

"Shedd Aquarium is prioritizing accessibility as a key component in this design and vision and is incorporating key accessibility principles in updating the current historic layout and entrance,” said Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Commissioner Rachel Arfa. “This new and improved entrance will allow more people of all ages and all types of disabilities to enjoy this world-class Chicago institution for generations to come."

A New Lakeside Terrace Pavilion and Restoring the Historic North Terrace

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. The proposed enclosure will increase dining space for patrons by 7,700 square feet to accommodate peak seasons.

The nearby North Terrace, which dates back to the opening of the historic building in 1930, is also in dire need of repair and restoration. Shedd plans to rebuild and expand the North Terrace 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.

Activating Green Space, Nature Play, and Community Areas

Lastly, Shedd will mobilize the four acres of green space surrounding the building, enhancing Shedd’s natural environment and making it more inclusive and interactive for all visitors. The aquarium has long embraced a sustainable practice for stewarding green space and lakefront, and the Centennial Commitment will provide even greater access to witness these spaces up close. The new plan will also create vibrant habitat for native plant species like milkweed, migrating birds like the yellow-billed cuckoo and insect populations and important pollinators like monarch butterflies and several species of bees.

The four acres of green space around the building — equivalent to 40 Chicago backyards — will 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 protecting biodiversity at all levels, will bolster resilience on the lakefront while adding experiential value and environmental improvements.

“Chicago’s breathtaking lakefront on Museum Campus is made up of incredible stewards that contribute to our city’s green space, sustainable gardens and living habitats that the public and visitors can enjoy,” said Rosa Escareño, Interim General Superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District. “Shedd Aquarium’s efforts to expand upon these amenities and make spaces even more green, accessible, experience-rich and ecologically abundant will bring incredible value to Chicago and advance our shared goals and impact for education, conservation and strengthened connections to nature.”

Creating Economic Opportunities for Chicago’s Communities

The aquarium’s onsite transformation will create economic opportunities for diverse contractors in Chicago. Shedd has mandated self-imposed goals to award subcontracting packages to diverse targets of at least 26% and 6% MBE/WBE vendors, 50% of total onsite labor work hours to Chicago residents, and 25% of all onsite labor work hours to minority and female workers. Additionally, Shedd has also committed to ensuring hundreds of thousands of dollars go directly into the pockets of nearby Chicagoans, creating greater economic mobility and benefit for communities closest to Museum Campus.

With support from joint venture general contractor Pepper/BMI Construction LLC, architect Valerio Dewalt Train, exhibit designer Thinc Design, project manager JLL, landscape architect Site Design Group, Ltd., diversity, equity and inclusion consultant Trinal Inc., accessibility consultant Institute for Human Centered Design and more, the aquarium’s transformation aims to honor the historical integrity of the building’s unmistakable architecture while augmenting spaces for the needs of guests and the over 25,000 animals that call Shedd home today.

Shedd opened its doors to the public in 1930 and has grown to become one of the world’s leading animal care, conservation, and education organizations, serving more than 200 million guests over the last nine decades. It draws the largest paid attendance of any Museums in the Park organization — 2 million people every year for nearly two decades, one-third of whom visit for free through Shedd’s commitment to admission access.

Visit Shedd Aquarium’s website at to learn more.

RENDERINGS: High-res renderings of Shedd’s exterior improvements as part of the aquarium’s Centennial Commitment can be viewed and downloaded here:

About Shedd Aquarium

The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago sparks compassion, curiosity, and conservation for the aquatic animal world. Home to 25,000 aquatic animals representing 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds, and mammals from waters around the globe, Shedd is a recognized leader in animal care, conservation, education, and research. An accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the organization is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and supported by the people of Chicago, the state of Illinois, and the Chicago Park District.