For over nine decades, Shedd Aquarium has provided more than 200 million visitors with countless one-of-a-kind experiences up close and personal with marine life. Guests of all ages have been treated to inspiring moments face-to-face with an extraordinary array of more than 25,000 aquatic entities ranging from kaleidoscopic fish to curious beluga whales.
With 2030 marking 100 years since Shedd Aquarium first opened, a transformational ‘Centennial Commitment’ was announced last year. According to the aquarium, the $500 million 8-year project will “prepare Shedd for the next 100 years, transforming the aquarium’s historic galleries, accelerating aquatic science and research, and equitably expanding access to nature for all.”
This week, Tuesday, August 2, the aquarium unveiled its “Experience Evolution” entailing its plan for new galleries, learning spaces, and transformations in store in the years to come.
The plan involves “significant education and conservation experience transformations that will create more equitable access to animals and nature.” New immersive, bilingual, and science-rich exhibits will allow guests to experience life beneath the water’s surface bringing them closer than ever to the wonder of the aquatic animal world.
There will also be better learning facilities, hands-on programs and greater space for conservation science research labs as well as new circulation pathways that will significantly improve guest accessibility needs.
The most significant changes, however, are not only for guests, says the aquarium, but also for the permanent aquarium residents. Some exhibits will see double the amount of water volume and improved state-of-the art infrastructure to support the complex environments neeeded for the thousands of animals.
It will be the most extensive physical transformation the public aquarium has had in its recent history and will take place in four phases allowing the aquarium to remain open throughout the project duration with new galleries, programs, and experiences opening on a rolling basis.
The four-phase breakdown will see work carried out as follows:
Already underway: Construction on new Integrated Aquatic Science Labs–a state-of-the-art space for conservation research, water chemistry, molecular ecology, pathology, and animal clinical care behind the scenes.
Summer 2023 to Summer 2024: Renovations to the Welcome Plaza, the Gardens, the Atrium, and the Shedd store as well as extensive improvements to the Wonder of Water gallery and the Amazon Rising gallery.
Summer 2024 to Summer 2026: The Changing Oceans gallery will be renovated along with a new Kelp Forest exhibit, a Caribbean Reef exhibit, and a new Whalefall exhibit. The Lakeside Learning Studio will bring Shedd’s education spaces up from the basement and into the core of the aquarium experience and Shedd will restore the North Terrace extending it by 10 feet in the process.
Summer 2026 to Winter 2026: Full renovations to the River Wonders gallery and the Living Lakes gallery as well as a complete restoration of the Grand Hall.
Of these our highlights are the new Wonder of Water gallery which will see the installation of a dual-habitat system made up of two towering saltwater and freshwater habitats serving as the beating heart of the aquarium. Walking through the middle guests will be able to access new periscopes and towering viewing windows allowing them to peak into fish nests, anemones and more.
Soon to be installed, the new Whalefall exhibit will use sound, light and touch to tell the story of the unique, temporary environment that forms when a whale dies, the new ecosystem it creates for other species, and its surprising connection to climate change. Guests will be able to explore an environment at the bottom of the sea through multi-sensory experiences including hearing “the orchestra of the ocean from the depths below.”
The biggest news for most, however, will likely be the installation of a 40-foot-long glass tunnel which will open in summer of 2026 as part of the revamped Caribbean Reef exhibit. Imersing visitors in the rich, bustling community of a Caribbean coral reef habitat, the tunnel will be a huge new attraction at the heart of the fully renovated North Gallery.
Guests will be able to enjoy exciting new views unlike anything the aquarium has offered before.
Throughout all renovations, the Shedd Aquarium has promised to honor the building’s historic integrity and Beaux-Arts beauty by mindfully restoring masonry and unblocking original windows providing views of the lake all the while keeping the Georgian marble and Chicago bricks intact.
In addition to changed to structures and layout, the aquarium intends to make its exhibits fully bilingual (English and Spanish) as it has already done so with its interactive Plankton Revealed experience.
The transformation will reportedly have a massive economic impact statewide “creating more than 2,000 jobs in Illinois and leading to more than $340 million in economic activity through its construction phases” according to the aquarium.
“Shedd Aquarium’s Centennial Commitment is a transformational investment for CPS students and youth across the city that will provide unprecedented opportunities to connect with nature and the environment, which are essential to our ongoing pursuit of environmental justice,” said Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.
Take a browse through all of the new rendings released by Shedd Aquarium this week:
We will continue to reveal more on the Shedd Aquarium’s evolution as the information becomes available to us but for now, more details can be found at Sheddaquarium.org/centennial-commitment.
[All images courtesy of Shedd Aquarium]