Polar Bear Odyssey at Como Park Zoo

The Polar Bear Odyssey was Como Park Zoo’s first interactive exhibit and it was a new adventure for Empirehouse—our first underwater glazing and fabrication project.

This work was unique for us because it included a wide range of products and installations, including automatic entries, skylights, glass floors, bi-fold doors, epoxy-set stainless steel frames, and glazing. The most challenging part of the project was working on the polar bear swim tank with our glazed frames to be submerged in water.

The work was complex not only because of the systems used, but because the generalized drawings left many details to be resolved post-bid. In addition, waterproofing was an extremely important element that needed special applications and installation methods, proper weather and temperature conditions, and the know-how to create the perfect joint and wall seals.

Polar Bear glass thicknessThe glass units selected needed to be both clear for viewing and strong for safety. Only two North American manufacturers were able to fabricate the over-sized tempered and laminated glass units for the swim tank measuring 15′ x 8′ x 1″ and weighed 2,000 pounds each and 14′ x 8′ x 2-1/2″ and weighed 3,000 pounds each. These over-sized glass units required unique transportation and handling for installation.

Polar Bear glass installThe excessive weight and size of these glass lites posed installation challenges. Instead of using a vacuum lifter to move the glass from the trailer to the frames, the units were held with straps that were rated to 10,000 pounds and 1/4″ thick. With glass units weighing in at two to three thousand pounds each, it required careful crane operation to insert the units into position, fitted and glazed properly within the fabricated stainless steel frames.

The Polar Bear Odyssey offers a new expanded home for the bears and a unique viewing experience for young and old to watch bears swim and play right before their eyes behind the safety and clarity of the Empirehouse installed glass.

Photo gallery: (Click to enlarge)