Zoos & Aquariums

Master Plan

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Roto Master Plan

Opened in 1986, the Virginia Aquarium has consistently grown and evolved over the decades, and in 2019 Roto was selected to design the institution’s next chapter through a comprehensive Master Planning effort. With the intent of nearly doubling in size and upgrading both animal exhibits and back of house facilities and operations, the AZA accredited institution leveraged Roto’s unique combination of world class planning capabilities, creative experience development, and expert living collections design.


  • Upgraded exterior pinniped exhibit, with scenic rockwork environments and viewing opportunities from surprising new perspectives
  • Clever repurposing of giant screen theater space for a back of house focused experience, the Pinniped Conservation Area
  • Enhanced, attraction-quality “behind the scenes” experiences with integrated high tech media and live facilitators
  • Engaged leading animal care and life support system consultation and expertise throughout the design process
Virginia Aquarium Roto Master Plan

Inspiring conservation has always been the motivating force at Virginia Aquarium, but this Master Plan brings that message and all of the aquarium’s related efforts and activities – typically unseen – to the forefront as a featured story and visitor experience driver. The design’s core idea, “Conservation Forward,” not only puts the science, technology, and expertise of animal care on display, it provides new opportunities for visitors to actually get involved themselves, both during the course of their visit and as they go out into their community.

Virginia Aquarium Roto Concept Sketch

In addition to reimagining the facility’s opportunities for enhanced animal experiences for visitors, Roto led a collaborative design process focused on key operational factors, such as circulation, group staging, and interface with the new parking garage via a pedestrian bridge. This integrated approach ensured a holistic appreciation of the expansion’s impacts and resulted in a Master Plan that feels functional and intentional to both visitors and staff.