The Toledo Zoo Aquarium is a building that has been well loved by its community since it opened in 1939. However as time passed the aquarium faced increasing demand for a broader range of species, larger animals, and more variety in exhibits. The introduction of marine exhibits in the 1970s hastened the building’s aging process, necessitating a major renovation.
The project was brought to EHDD in 2010, with the challenge of greatly increasing the exhibit volume and scale, while staying within the existing historic Works Progress Administration (WPA) era building envelope. EHDD’s approach pairs a respect for the aquarium’s historical fabric and context with the desire to give visitors a completely fresh and transformative experience. A reconfiguration of the floor plan brings visitors through the previously abandoned historical main entrance directly into the heart of the building. The design’s exhibit layout and sensory cues, in combination with interpretive elements provided by the zoo’s own team, immerses the visitor in a learning environment which is complementary to its underwater subject matter.
Through this project the aquarium nearly doubled its public exhibit area, and expanded its water volume 4-fold, from 46,000 to 185,000 gallons, accommodating 200 species displayed in 32 exhibits. The largest exhibit, the new 90,000 gallon Pacific Coral Reef tank, is housed within the historical rotunda of the original building, giving visitors six unique views through expansive floor-to-ceiling windows. In concert with the refreshed aquarium facility, our team designed and built an adjacent 40,000 gallon outdoor penguin exhibit, accessible from the north tower of the building, which features a mix of above and below water viewing of South African black-footed penguins.
In March 2015 the remodeled 30,000 sq.ft facility re-opened its doors to an eager audience. Toledo locals, who had been visiting the aquarium since childhood, enjoyed the nostalgia triggered by the building’s exterior and were wowed by the transformation of its galleries and exhibits. On busy days, the aquarium has drawn up to 1,800 people per hour and due to its popularity, the zoo is now on track to break its annual attendance record.