THE INLAND SEA: SHEDD AQUARIUM
13 February 2018
On February 1, 1924, the members of the non-profit Shedd Aquarium Society gathered for their first official meeting. Armed with just over $2 million from John G. Shedd, then-President of Marshall Field & Company, the Shedd Aquarium Society was formed with the intention of “construct[ing], maintain[ing] and operat[ing] an aquarium or museum of aquatic life exclusively for education and scientific purposes”.[i] Nearly 100 years later, the Shedd Aquarium continues to be hailed as one of the greatest aquariums in the world, boasting some 32,000 animals in an impressive 5,000,000 gallons of water for the exhibits.[ii] Perched on the edge of the Cultural Mile, the Shedd Aquarium is a lovely 15-minute walk through Grant Park for residents of 1000M.
A GIFT TO THE CITY
Although John G. Shedd passed away just a year before ground was broken for the Shedd in 1927, his dream for the aquarium was effectively realized when it opened in May 1930. Shedd had envisioned the aquarium would extend and complement the architectural wonders already present in Chicago, inspired by the Field Museum and the Art Institute. For this reason, Walter Chute, the first director of the Shedd Aquarium, hired the prestigious architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White to design yet another monumental Beaux-Arts building.
Famous for their work on both the Field Museum and the Wrigley Building, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White were considered experts of the Beaux-Arts style.[iii] As with other museums in Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium assumes the role of a “neoclassical temple of white marble and terra cotta that celebrates aquatic life, from the marine fossils in its limestone floor to Neptune’s trident capping its glass dome.” [iv] Although masters of the traditional forms in this style of architecture, Graham and his colleagues took an adventurous step in the design of the Shedd Aquarium, one that has contributed to the Shedd’s enduring worldwide prestige.
AN AESTHETIC, FUNCTIONAL SPACE
Replacing the traditional ‘circle in a cross’ floor plan found in many Greek and Roman temples with a novel wide, octagonal footprint, Graham and his firm substantially increased the Aquarium’s floor plan. This architectural curiosity arose from Walter Chute’s observation that many of the leading aquariums in the nation were starved for work and research space. As a result of this octagonal floor plan, the Shedd has plenty of room for reserve areas and feed rooms, in addition to an early animal hospital.
Groundbreaking in more ways than one, the Shedd Aquarium was also the first inland aquarium with a permanent saltwater fish collection. Trains full of tropical saltwater ran all the way from Key West to Chicago to fill the Shedd’s massive tanks, enabling Director Chute to house exotic saltwater fish, the likes of which Chicago’s citizens had never seen.
Residents of 1000M are sure to enjoy the ‘Waters of the World’ galleries, which feature exhibits from rivers and oceans throughout the world, including a giant Pacific octopus, a blue iguana, and, of course, starfish and seahorses. There is also the marvelous ‘Abbott Oceanarium’ — an underground ocean exhibit featuring white-sided dolphins, belugas, California sea lions, and sea otters. Whether you visit to wonder at the grand aquatic animals housed there, or to study the architectural curiosities of the building, a visit to the Shedd Aquarium is an excellent way to enjoy all the wonderful amenities found on the Cultural Mile.