Looking Beyond the Fish: Shedd Aquarium


Around this time of year, the winter weather starts to get monotonous. In Seattle, my favorite winter haunt was the Volunteer Park Conservatory. In Chicago, there’s endless places to find some solace from the weather, and this last week I headed to the Shedd Aquarium. Shedd Aquarium is home to thousands of aquatic animals for the education and enjoyment of visitors, but the building, itself, is nearly as eye-catching. It originally opened in 1930 and was built as part of the greater Marshall Field legacy–John G. Shedd, whose dream was to build this aquarium, made his fortune as president of Marshall Field & Company.

The Shedd Aquarium features the work of not one but two different notable architecture firms. The original building was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White (they also designed the Wrigley Building and the Field Museum). The aquarium was designed in the Beaux-Arts style with elements of Greek Revival in reference to the Field Museum, its neighbor. This original Shedd Aquarium featured an octagonal central space with radiating exhibits (see first four photos, below).

The marine mammal exhibit was completed and opened to the public in 1991. This exhibit is housed in the Oceanarium, designed by Lohan Associates (Dirk Lohan was none other than the grandson of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe). The Oceanarium blends beautifully with the 1930 building in generally form, but departs dramatically from the classical style, most notably in its use of windows. An arcing wall of glass on the east side provides a backdrop of Lake Michigan to the mammal exhibits and dolphin shows, and in the early morning, sunlight fills the dolphin and beluga pools.














Sources and Further Reading:

The Encyclopedia of Chicago article on the Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium “About Us” page features a piece on the History & Architecture

Information about the Oceanarium was obtained from Chicago Architecture and Design, by Jay Pridmore and George A. Larson. You can, however, read more about Dirk Lohan in this 1987 Chicago Tribune piece, Architect Dirk Lohan Leaving His Mark on Chicago.







6 thoughts on “Looking Beyond the Fish: Shedd Aquarium

  1. When I think of Chicago, my (sorta) hometown, I think of the museums – Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Science & Industry, etc. I’ve always loved them, even when I was young.


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