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No Little Plans: Chicago's Shedd Aquarium

Feb 19, 2008
Shedd Aquarium, along with the Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, is one of the crown Jewels of Grant Park.

The legendary Gilded Age Chicago architect Daniel Burnham is quoted as saying to his fellows "Make no little plans" when they were designing the fabled White City at the Colombian Exposition of 1893, and that sentiment has carried on into many of the countless architectural achievements of the Windy City.

The sentiment was, and is, certainly found of the magnificent Shedd Aquarium, which, along with the Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, is one of the crown Jewels of Grant Park. In a city famed for it's stunning architecture and world-class amenities, that the Shedd is such a standout structure is no mean feat.

In the early 1920's Chicago, Illinois was one of the few major metropolises in the world that could not boast its own major aquarium, so the former president of Marshall Fields & Company, John G. Shedd decided to do something about it. He formed the Shedd Aquarium Society in 1924 with $3 million of his own money and the help of several prominent Chicago businessmen and civic leaders. Sadly, John Shedd died before work on the aquarium had even begun.

In 1925 the architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White was commissioned to design the Aquarium. Chief architect Ernst Graham had worked for Daniel Burnham himself, and was one of the pioneers of the famous Beaux Arts Style, which incorporated classical Greek and Roman styles with intricate ornamentation. The Shedd Aquarium would be one of the last and best examples of the Beaux Art Style of this period.

The Groundbreaking ceremony of the Shedd Aquarium took place in November of 1927, and only 2 years later the public was treated to a special preview of the 1st exhibit, a massive fresh-water ecology display.

The salt-water exhibits would have to wait another 6 months while 20 railroad tank-cars made 8 round-trips between Chicago and Key West to deliver the million gallons of water they required. On May 30th of 1930 the Shedd had its Grand Opening, taking its place on the world stage as one of the biggest aquariums on earth.

The Shedd Aquarium has been updated twice. In 1991 noted architect Dirk Lohan designed the Oceanarium, an enormous wing that doubled the Shedd's size and gave a home to dozens of marine mammals like whales, dolphins and otters.

Later the firm Esherick, Homsey, Dodge & Davis Architects designed the subterranean south wing to house the Wild Reef, a recreation of a Philippine coastal reef located 25 feet below street-level. Both additions were carefully designed and built to update the Shedd Aquarium in a way complimentary to its classic roots.

Just as no trip to Illinois is complete without a trip to Chi-town, no trip to Chicago is complete without visiting this magnificent structure. "Make no little plans," said Daniel Burnham, "they have no magic to move men's souls". Well the Shedd has magic, allright, and had had Daniel Burnham and John G. Shedd lived to see it, it surely would have moved their souls in a great way.
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