Lonely Planet Writer

The world's largest penguin conservation facility to open at Detroit Zoo

Monday will see the world’s largest penguin exhibition exhibit, The Polk Penguin Conservation Center, open at the Detroit Zoo. The state of the art facility houses more than 80 penguins in impressive surroundings, boasting a 326,000-gallon chilled aquatic area that allows the penguins 10 times more space to swim in than their previous home at the zoo. Admission to the Penguin Center is included with admission to the Detroit Zoo, however timed-entry passes are required to ensure an enjoyable experience for visitors.

World's biggest penguin exhibition begins in Detroit.
World’s biggest penguin exhibition begins in Detroit. Image by Karen Roe / CC BY 2.0

The exterior of the building was designed to evoke the penguins’ native environment. Built to ‘resemble a towering tabular iceberg with a crevasse and waterfall’ by architects Jones & Jones, this striking design sets the stage for the stunning interior of the penguin experience. The area inside the centre is kept at the optimal penguin-friendly temperature, a chilly 37 degrees Fahrenheit for the air and 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the water. Some of the unique habitat features include climbing rocks, lapping waves and falling snow and ice. The temperature controls and habitat design are all part of efforts to maximize the welfare of the birds and to encourage wild behaviour. These behaviors include diving, nesting, and rearing young.

The new building also gives visitors a unique view of penguin life from two transparent, acrylic underground tunnels and an immense acrylic window 25 feet below the surface of the pool. This vantage point affords visitors the unparalleled experience of watching the penguins dive deep with their powerful fins and frolic underwater.  

There is an outdoor plaza that sits at the base of a 25-foot waterfall cascading from the building’s roof that is meant to simulate a cracking, melting iceberg. The plaza features a large window that provides a look into the penguin area. A central feature of the plaza is a 1400-square-foot fountain with 32 jets shooting over an outline of Antarctica and the surrounding oceans.  In the winter, the fountain area will be transformed into a 1100-square-foot skating rink.