Cool Off Under the Sea

How do you build a state-of-the-art home for the world’s largest collection of jellyfish, beneath an indoor amusement park and shopping mall? Just ask the team at Krech, O’Brien, Mueller and Associates. This spring they completed work on the Jellyfish Discovery exhibit at Merlin Entertainment’s Underwater Adventures Aquarium at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN.

The exhibit features unique cylindrical tanks, LED lighting and mirrors to highlight the beauty of this exotic collection of jellyfish. KOMA coordinated the construction and life safety portion of the project, which was designed by U.K.-based Merlin Studios / Kay Elliott Architects and built by Construction Results.

“The aquarium took space allocated for classrooms and turned it into exhibit space two years ago for an exhibit,” says KOMA architect Steve Iaria. KOMA conducted a code analysis at that time, when the aquarium was building a seahorse exhibit that preceded the jellyfish exhibit. That design extended the length of travel for visitors, which resulted in the need for modified emergency exiting.  “Aquariums are unique because oftentimes the tanks themselves form the pathway through the building. When large masses of people are accounted for in the exiting strategy, more restrictive requirements for egress widths and travel distances need to be followed which then have to be related back to the layout of the tanks and their theming components,” explains Iaria. “Our job was to make sure that was implemented correctly during design and construction of the exhibit.”

Jellyfish Exhibit

“Since we had done all of the code review for the seahorse exhibit we were familiar with the space and the requirements,” says Iaria. “However, the jellyfish exhibit presented some challenges for exiting.  The ‘jagged’ geometry of the space in combination with the floor-to-ceiling mirrors and low light levels created the illusion of an endless room of jellyfish tanks. Although the design intent was to alter the senses a bit when experiencing the jellies, we still had to make sure that the guests were not confused if an emergency situation arose.” Strategic locations for exit signs needed to be located so that they were not detracting from the visitor experience but still visible in the case of an emergency.

KOMA also worked with the design team to assist in locating the underslab process piping that had to be routed from the life support system (LSS) rooms to the underside of the tanks. “It’s amazing how much ‘stuff’ was found running underneath the slab in the lowest level of MOA!” says Iaria.

Krech, O’Brien, Mueller & Associates, Inc., is a full-service architectural, structural engineering and interior design firm located in Inver Grove Heights, Minn. Serving clients in a wide variety of industries, the firm delivers innovative ideas, thoughtful design and disciplined execution with an emphasis on balance and sustainable thinking. Founded in 1985, the firm is built upon the idea that open and honest communication with clients and genuine collaboration yield aesthetically pleasing, functional, inspiring, healthy places for people to live, work, play and worship. For more information about Krech, O’Brien, Mueller & Associates, call 651-451-4605 or email