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Ocean Hall

Time-Lapse of the Building of the Sant Ocean Hall

Don't have much time? Watch the ocean hall come to life in this two-minute time-lapse.



Jill Johnson

Meet the Exhibit Team

Building the Sant Ocean Hall – like any major exhibition – was a huge undertaking. Over the course of five years, it required hundreds of people with a vast array of skills and backgrounds. One group of people shaped the project from start to finish. This is the exhibit's core team.


original Ocean Hall bubble plan

Designing the Exhibit

The design for the Sant Ocean Hall didn’t happen in one grand design session. Instead, it evolved over time from multiple concepts and exhibits. Join us and watch as we look at the Biodiversity Display exhibit as an example.

Rotunda with visitors

Asking the Audience

How do museums know the best ways to present information to the public? Most of them have excellent exhibit developers who have experience creating compelling, informative exhibits. But every exhibit has new challenges, and there may be different ideas within the planning team about what will work best. To help make these decisions, exhibit developers in general, and the ocean hall team in particular goes to its audience – the visitors.

Ocean Hall in March 2007

Planning the Hall's Restoration

The Sant Ocean Hall resides in a grand, historical, newly renovated space. It is one of the museum’s three central halls and it links the museum’s two main entrances – the National Mall and Constitution Avenue.


Text panel

Writing the Script

If you've been to museum exhibits, you know that introductions, explanations, and details about the photos, images, and objects on display are usually displayed as text printed on walls or shown in cases. If you're interested and you like to read, you've probably read many of these panels. If not, you may have just breezed past them. But one thing you can know for sure – a lot of effort went into deciding exactly what those words are.

Tim Lay

Making the Movies

Unlike a stereotypical natural history display of static objects, the Sant Ocean Hall is alive with movement. From all corners of the hall, video presentations bring ocean critters, ocean processes, and ocean peoples to life. How did the museum put all these fascinating presentations together? That's the job of the exhibit's audio-visual producers.

Artist rendering

Ocean Odyssey, Windows into the Ocean

When you walk into the ocean hall, you may feel as though you have taken a dive into the depths – largely due to the beautiful, choreographed ocean footage that surrounds the upper reaches of the Hall in high-tech video. The film projected on the Hall’s high bay walls above you will transport you into the realm beneath the waves.

Carver Douglas Chilton working on canoe

Carving Our Northwest Coast Canoe

A master-carver hand-crafted a traditional ocean-going canoe for display in the Sant Ocean Hall. We celebrated its arrival at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on June 19th, 2008.

NMNH fish collections

Displaying Our Collections

Ocean life comes in all shapes and sizes – and each kind has its own unique display needs. Museum curators and exhibit designers must carefully select how best to display each specimen.


Early Model of Phoenix

Modeling Phoenix, Our North Atlantic Right Whale

A full scale model of a North Atlantic right whale, a majestic species that human hunting, ship strikes, and fishing gear entanglements have driven nearly to extinction, dominates the Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History. Constructing a model this big (almost 50 feet long) is no easy feat! By the time it is completed, it will showcase design and biology challenges that had never before been attempted.

Artist rendering

Building the Exhibit

The Sant Ocean Hall is the National Museum of Natural History’s largest exhibit. With 23,000 square feet of exhibit space, it provides visitors with a unique and breathtaking introduction to the majesty of the ocean. To create this experience, the hall took over five years of planning, coordination, and construction. Want to learn how it all came together?

Worms on a whale bone

What Got Left Out

The Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History will be awe-inspiring, exciting and groundbreaking. But even a Hall as large as this one – 25,000 square feet – couldn't hold everything its planners wanted. In order to communicate clear messages about the ocean, create the best visitor experience possible and avoid overloading the content, difficult decisions had to be made at every step of the way.


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