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Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium

EHDD Architecture

Design Team

EHDD Architecture

Jennifer Devlin-Herbert

Principal in Charge

Lynne Riesselman

Design Principal

Jessica Sano

Project Manager

Wei Wen


Kelly Liu


Jeemin Bae

Senior Technical Detailer

John Christianson

Construction Administration

About the Project

The Sobela Aquarium is more than an addition to the Kansas City Zoo—it’s a transformation of the entire facility. Spanning 72,000 square feet, the aquarium offers an indoor, allseason attraction. It catapulted the zoo’s population from 1,700 to over 10,000 and spurred a complete rebrand of the facility. But the project’s ambition extended even further: The facility wanted the new aquarium to ignite a passion for ocean life in its visitors, to inspire a commitment to preserving our natural environment.

To achieve a cohesive and meaningful visitor experience, we identified an interpretive framework of “marine currents.” The visitor path starts at a shallow tropical shore, follows a warm current into the melting pot of the deep ocean, and is carried via a cold current from the depths, through the ocean’s forests, emerging at a cool Pacific coast.

This storyline lends structure to the diverse, global collection. By highlighting the interconnected nature of our ecosystems, the storyline offers a strong base for the zoo’s conservation and educational programs.

Architectural cues such as changing light quality, spatial variation, water levels, and physical descent augment unique exhibit designs to engage all the senses and create resonance. Though few visitors will consciously recognize the impact these sensory cues have on their connection to the exhibits, it is this layering of the experience—the hundreds of small design choices—that culminate to engage visitor emotions, spark their curiosity, and build in them a passion for the ocean.

While many visitors to the new Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium have visited the ocean, few will have dipped deep below its surface. This project creates that opportunity for all.

Client Statement

The Sobela Ocean Aquarium has been a remarkable addition to the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium. The Aquarium increased the diversity of animals at the Zoo and the number of animal residents from 1,700 to nearly 10,000. Its opening marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Zoo’s brand, including a change of name/logo, and has led to record breaking attendance numbers. We appreciate the attention to detail paid by the team as they designed the Aquarium with flexibility in mind; the space is not only a world-class habitat for sea life but can also host a variety of events, from hands-on educational programming to formal fundraisers.

The design team was also intentional with their approach to the structure of the animal habitats. The theme of ocean currents throughout the building provides a framework lending meaning and context to the diverse marine habitats. This theme is reinforced by distinct architectural elements such as variations in light/space, which create a sensory journey through the entire building and make guests feel as though they are experiencing the ocean. This demonstrated the team’s care for our mission to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for these important ecosystems and their conservation.

It feels like an elevated social club and I love the flexibility of use. It is great how they have scaled this for children and yet made it accessible for all. It made me want to go there.

General Contractor

JE Dunn Construction

Eric Wyer

Senior Superintendent

Susan Schaefer

Project Executive

Ryan Bradshaw

Senior Project Manager

Robert Lee

Project Manager

Sean Mitchell

Project Manager

Extended Partners

Local Architect

El Dorado Inc

Exhibit Design

Space Haus, LTD

Aquatic Engineering

LSS Design | TJP Inc.

Lighting Design

Lighchitects Studio


Antella Consulting Engineers, Inc

Fire Alarm

Antella Consulting Engineers, Inc


Latimer Sommers & Associates

Structural Engineer

Leigh + O’Kane

Landscape Architect


Civil Engineer

SK Design Group, Inc


Fennessy Consulting Services


Specifications West LLC


Charles M. Salter Assoc. Inc.


Michael Robinson

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