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10-14-20 | Feature

Bringing the Ocean to Nebraska

Alaskan Adventure at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE
by Aaron Schmok LASN

The Alaskan-themed exhibit at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE, features dancing water through sprays and spouts that are intermingled with 80 bronze sculptures created by Matthew Placzek.
At the center of the area is an 18' high humpback whale sculpture which has water trailing from its outstretched fins. The whale's tail is a separate piece and is 16' wide and 8' tall with water flowing from the edge as it appears to submerge into the water. The whale is created from 187 separate pieces of bronze welded together with a stainless-steel internal structure. Weighing in at 15,000 pounds, the whale houses 30 different intricately woven water lines.
At the center of the area is an 18' high humpback whale sculpture which has water trailing from its outstretched fins. The whale's tail is a separate piece and is 16' wide and 8' tall with water flowing from the edge as it appears to submerge into the water. The whale is created from 187 separate pieces of bronze welded together with a stainless-steel internal structure. Weighing in at 15,000 pounds, the whale houses 30 different intricately woven water lines.
There are approximately two dozen artificial rock boulders and outcrops that serve as platforms for the bronze sculptures as well as parent seating. The team conducted studies on the different rock formations and patterns found within the coastal regions of Alaska that inspired this park. Through their research, they were able to create the rocks to be accurate portrayals of the geological formations found in these animals' natural habitats.
The Jumping Salmon wall stretches approximately 65 feet long and contains 30 bronze salmon with a mother brown bear and her cub appearing to wait for them at the end. The wall itself was made from stone veneer applied over a structural concrete wall.
Under the control of the computerized operating system, the entire park can pump approximately 2,500 gallons of water per minute or 150,000 gallons per hour. The display system, which includes the nozzles, has the capacity to push over two million gallons per day over the splash deck. However, the operation of the pumps is determined by the programs that have been developed for display, as well as interaction by the people making the actual amount of water that goes through each system vary.
The surface is compressible and was given a light blue coloration to add to the aquatic theme. The landscape architect chose this surfacing because it offered a high degree of durability while being able to provide effect fall resistance with its soft texture.
The spraying water is controlled through computerized controls, which systematically spray a mix of water and air through nozzles arranged around the sculptures to simulate the water effects made by the animals as they breech, splash, and spray water. Koolfog's Oasis Series High Pressure Fog System was included to maximize these effects.

Background
The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, is home to over a dozen exhibits containing a diverse variety of wildlife including gorillas, elephants, hippos, and much more. In 2010, a master plan was created to allow for the inclusion of many unique attractions and exhibits, including the ideas behind an interactive splash pad area. The concept behind the splash pad didn't materialize for several years until the vision of the Alaskan Adventure within the Coastal Shores area was conceived.
This project completed two tasks as it included a water play area, as denoted by the master plan, and allowed for animals to be represented that were not found within the zoo through the implementation of a series of aquatic sculptures of whales, sea lions, fish, and more. The CEO and executive director for the zoo, Dennis Pate, explained that "the exhibit is a way to introduce kids to animals from Alaska at a very early age in a way that we wouldn't otherwise be able to do." The $14 million project was funded almost entirely by donors. The interactive water feature and play area is an educational and entertainment space that encourages children and their parents to enjoy themselves while learning how Alaskan animals live while illustrating various facets of their native environments.

The Project

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The zoo looked towards Lanoha Nurseries for the landscape architecture, ASD Architects to fulfill the architectural needs, and Outside the Lines (OTL) to coordinate with the design to integrate the water jet features and the engineering associated with them. The various teams collaborated with each other to produce the interactive water feature attraction.

For this project, the team decided to include the bronze sculptures throughout the area and have different water mechanisms work to give life to those animals. In coordinating with the orientation of the animals, the water sprays in a way that makes them appear to be leaping out of the surface into the air, which creates an animated appearance. In this 18,625-square-foot area, there are a total of 80 different sculpted animals, which includes 30 salmon, 25 puffins, 15 sea lions, three orcas, a brown bear at the entrance, and a large, 25-foot-tall humpback whale in the middle of the exhibit. The jets near the fish give the choreographed impression that they are swimming as a school. Strategically placed speakers are located throughout the area that displays the recorded noises of the wildlife that are being represented.

Challenges
The nature of the project, being located in the middle of a zoo, led to some unexpected hurdles in the design and construction process. In planning the attraction, the team had to consider methods of circumnavigating any potential health factors that could be put the animals with the zoo at risk. They were particularly focused on designs that would result in a manageable and unharmful amount of dust and noise that the surrounding exhibit inhabitants would be exposed to. Furthermore, the accessibility of the Alaskan Adventure had to be well thought out as not to put any zoo guests at risk as they entered and exited the area.

The weather was the cause of one of the biggest challenges the team faced during the project, with much of the implementation taking place during the winter months. To mitigate the problems created from the colder temperatures, the team installed a temporary tent that was large enough to cover the areas they were working on. Furthermore, the interior of the tent was heated to be warm enough to continue construction and create an environment that met minimum-temperature requirements for the chemicals and sealants that were being applied.

Another challenge presented itself within the swimming salmon effect, which incorporated the use of leaping laminar jets. In this section, there are 30 choreographed shots of water that are oriented in such a way that they replicate the movements of salmon swimming upstream and jumping out of the water as part of their journey to spawn. The jets were placed in front of the wall containing the mounted salmon sculptures. It proved problematic to install the jets at the appropriate angles, spacing, and positioning to create the best representation of the fish in motion. After considerable effort, the team was able to successfully input the jets in the necessary locations to synthesize the visual depiction of multiple sequential jumps through the arching water.

Results
After completion of the Alaskan Adventure in June of 2016, the zoo reported that they broke all of their previous attendance records as they reported over 2 million visitors. The attraction has been a great place that offers children the ability to experience the joy of playing in the water jets and features while also getting to learn about the Alaskan aquatic life that they would not otherwise get to appreciate. Additionally, as reported by USA Today in December 2016, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium became the most Instagrammed location within Nebraska for that year.

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