Animals are an unavoidable part of our ecosystem and, humans have welcomed some of them to be a constant presence in their daily lives. Environmental pollution, contamination, urbanization and deforestation have made a significant dent in the presence of animals in urban areas. Many designers and architects have pointed out the gap in the existence of urban animal habitats. Humans have taken over numerous animal habitats to build urban concrete jungles as a part of urbanization.

Architects, designers and ecologists are trying to increase the population of the animals by creating shelters or a friendly environment to enable their coexistence with people. Many architects believe that architecture must contain a vision to share the human-designed structures and landscapes with plants and animals.

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Panda House ©

The origin of the modern-day zoo traces back to the ancient times of which, evidence exists. The oldest royal zoo dating back to 3500 B.C, was found in Nekhen, Egypt in the year 2009. The Mesopotamian civilization showed records of zoological and botanical gardens, from the 11th century BC. Alexander the Great hunted and exported exotic animals to Greece, which had zoos in its major cities by the 4th Century AD. The Roman Empire too used animals for their research purposes and entertainment. The 16th Century AD witnessed many such animal enclosures and, in the year 1520, one of the oldest menageries found in the European continent, owned by the Aztec emperor Montezuma II, was destroyed by conqueror Hernan Cortes during the Spanish conquest. Royal menageries and zoos existed in Europe, until the Age of Enlightenment. Some of the most known royal zoos are found in Baroque palaces located in Schönbrunn, Austria, or Versailles in France. 

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The Jardin des Plantes ©MNHN – Bibliothèquecentral

Up until a few years ago, the only animal-friendly architecture people were familiar with were the traditional zoos and animal sanctuaries where animals remain behind a screen or inside a cage. Instead of keeping animals caged in an artificial environment, it is recommended that animals be kept in enclosures where they can roam around freely. Creating an environment where animals can coexist with humans will help create a balanced ecosystem. 

Recently, the animal-safe design has garnered more attention than ever before, as the safety and comfort of the wildlife animals are being debated highly. The animal-friendly structures require large open spaces that allow natural light, lower energy costs, and help people perceive spaces as bigger than they are. Glass, considered as a beautiful and, sustainable material, is included in some animal-friendly structures but it may also prove to be deadly to the animals and, especially birds.

Birds are the most affected by the inclusion of glass elements in architecture. To protect the birds from harming themselves by flying into the glass, architects have deciphered a couple of solutions including etched glass, metal and mesh screens, louvers, UV glass, turtle safe solutions glass etcetera.

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Bird-Friendly- Dot patterned Glass ©

Also, Architects should concentrate on designing structures that make urban areas friendlier places for the city-dwelling animals and birds and creatures that are just passing through. With large scale deforestation and wildfires happening around the world, many animals are losing their habitats. The human-centric designed cities do not provide them with a comfortable and safe place to live in.

Joyce Hwang, an American architect has initiated the idea of animal-centric designs that provide birds and animals with a safe and secure environment to thrive in. An ideal example would be the bat habitats called the Bat Tower and, hanging pods of the Bat Cloud, designed by Joyce Hwang.

Architecture should feature setbacks mimicking green spaces that can be useful to animals and birds. Stationary walls along an existing series of setbacks could be arranged to form vertical habitats for birds and small animals like squirrels and other rodents. An array of setbacks can exhibit angular, modern habitat walls for birds and bats, or provide an expansive area for the animals to live and thrive in. 

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Bat Tower ©

The incorporation of zoological and botanical elements along with landscape and architectural features by the architects and designers will help improve the designs of these contemporary enclosures. Many contemporary zoos focus on the exhibition display and the relationship between animals and the audience will act as a positive feature of the design, moving the animals continuously across the enclosure practicing the strategies of animal rotation and flex habitat.

People are also welcoming harmless animals into their houses and making architectural provisions in the existing houses for shelter and feeding of the animals in the forms of birdhouses, kennels, stables, barns etcetera.

Designing for animals is a big challenge for architects. Some instances of great animal-friendly architecture include the Panda House by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Bat-Friendly Bridge by NEXT Architecture, Kangaroo Enclosure by White Arkitekter, Finnish Stables by Pook Designs, etcetera.

The architecture of the future aims to create an urban ecosystem, wherein plants, animals, and people exist together in peace.

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Kangaroo Enclosure ©

Gopika Gopan is an Interior Designer who believes every building has a story to tell and is on a mission to narrate as many stories as possible. She believes architecture is the mirror of society and, she hopes to make a change in the world with her words and designs.

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