OdySea Aquarium Exterior
Hospitality & Entertainment — Scottsdale, AZ

OdySea Aquarium

The 200,000 square-foot OdySea Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the southwest, is located at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Scottsdale, Arizona. Construction began in March 2015 and was completed in only 18 months.

As one of Arizona’s premier tourist attractions, the state-of-the-art facility offers unrivaled marine adventures with a high-tech, high-entertainment, oceanic educational journey like no other in the industry. It was designed to accommodate up to 10,000 visitors daily. There are two public exhibit levels and another level for aquarium operations, with more than 50 exhibits and 500 different species living in two million gallons of water.

Built on the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community, the project design also incorporates Native American culture into the facility, including a courtyard, handrails inspired by ancient basket-weaving techniques, and tilt panels depicting rain, oceans and earth.

OdySea also boasts the SeaTREK® experience that allows guests to descend deep into the “ocean,” where they are surrounded by sea life on all sides. There is also a state-of-the-art 3D movie featuring Underwater Giants, and exhibits including Rivers of the World, Otter Banks, Touch Pools, Penguin Point, Sharks of the Deep, the Great Barrier Reef, and “the Bizarre & Beautiful” featuring jellyfish, octopus, large king crabs and seahorses. The facility also includes the Lighthouse Cafe serving a full menu and light snacks and the OdySea Treasures Gift Shop.



  • Caruso Turley Scott, Inc.
  • Hunter Engineering
  • Piping Systems Engineering, Inc.
  • Aquatic Design Systems

Every morning I wake up and thank God I selected McCarthy to build the OdySea Aquarium. The OdySea Aquarium is truly is an engineering marvel. McCarthy’s ability to execute such a highly innovative project is a major accomplishment.

Amram Knishinsky, Founder
OdySea Aquarium, LLC

The Challenge

Constructing an aquarium in the desert presents a host of unique challenges. The OdySea project featured elevated, cast-in-place concrete aquariums with an innovative building design with minimal right angles. As a result, a unique challenge for the construction team was building the entire facility on a radial grid. McCarthy used GPS coordinates since it was not possible to provide a traditional grid system or dimensions that could be utilized for construction. Structural elements within the three-dimensional model were assigned real world latitude, longitude and elevation coordinates, so all structural components were sized, shaped and located using a Total Station instrument that conveyed points in the field to the thousandth of a foot. 

OdySea’s unique circular design also presented a unique challenge. Every single support element, both steel and concrete, was unique. Because of this, the team maximized the use of technology on the project to insure each component fit upon delivery. From the structural steel members, concrete columns and 4” thick radial acrylic panels to the structural steel theater turntable manufactured in China, precise measurements were necessary for each component to fit upon arrival. For example, 14ft x 40ft radial acrylic windows were designed in the United States, manufactured in Thailand and delivered to site 14 weeks later. Tolerances for curvature of the concrete were less than one degree and length and height were less than 1/4”. Over 5,455 sf cast-in-place concrete acrylic windows, over 1,100 structural beams and 72 concrete tilt panels fit the first time with no rework.

OdySea Aquarium Construction

I really appreciate all of the time and effort put in by the McCarthy team to help make our drawings the best they can be...I know we have all done our very best to make this project a success.

Daniel Van Cuyk
Caruso Turley Scott, Inc.

OdySea Aquarium Construction In Progress

The How

OdySea Aquarium’s structure involved McCarthy pouring more than 12,000 cubic yards of concrete for its structural footings; 16 cast-in-place concrete aquatic tanks; 121 individual concrete structural columns; and 72 concrete tilt wall panels, which were assembled over eight days on-site and placed using a 300-ton tilt plane crawler crane. The largest panel placed weighed 220,000 pounds and was 60 feet high.

Construction of the expansive structure also included the installation of two million pounds of steel and 1,198 beams; 5,455 linear feet of massive acrylic observation windows; and exhibits that hold more than two million gallons of water. The gigantic acrylic windows create unique observation tunnels within the aquarium, which visitors walk through and ride through on an escalator. More than 50 exhibits are maintained by 300 pumps and more than 42,000 linear feet of piping, including 11,000 linear feet of piping installed below grade.

OdySea Aquarium was a highly-technical construction project that required us to combine our industrial expertise with virtual design technology and applications to achieve the owner’s vision of large-scale aquatic displays and a structure with virtually no straight lines. And, thanks to our self-perform concrete and mechanical construction teams, McCarthy was able to adhere to the aggressive schedule, and today we are delivering the community a premier attraction they will enjoy for years to come.

Michael Gonzalez
McCarthy Director Preconstruction

OdySea Aquarium Courtyard

The Outcome

OdySea Aquarium was completed with the grand opening occurring just 18 months after groundbreaking and introduction of the first animals occurring in month 15. In order to meet the schedule, major work activities were strategically sequenced so that the most critical aspects of the project, the exhibits, would be constructed first, followed by the rest of the building. Because the construction completion date and opening date were the same, the team worked together to integrate animal introduction and acclimation activities into the project schedule.

There are many unique characteristics of OdySea, including the Aqua Lobby where nine globe-shaped aquariums each weighing 1,000 pounds are suspended from the ceiling, a 3D theater, and the Living Sea Carousel, a rotating seating area that offers short presentations on the aquarium’s four largest exhibits including the open ocean, sea turtles, sea lions and seals and shark waters.


Antonya Williams

Antonya Williams

6225 N 24th St
Ste 125
Phoenix, AZ 85050

Awards and Recognition

ENR Southwest Logo
2017 ENR Best Project

OdySea Aquarium
Engineering News-Record Southwest

AZRE logo
2017 RED Award

Recreation Winner
OdySea Aquarium
AZRE Commercial Real Estate