A zoological park or, in much simpler words, a Zoo, might be a part of childhood memory for many of us, maybe as a weekend trip or a summer picnic, it was always a place of fun and excitement for everyone. To be in the safe presence of such majestic creatures of nature, as a human, one can only feel the curiosity, intrigue, excitement, and quite an adrenaline rush. However, through the lens of an architect, if a Zoo’s primary user group were to be identified it would surely be the animals, who spent their lives in captivity for quite various reasons (which might be a topic of discussion on its own for a different article.) Zoo architecture is essential to ensure that both the user groups – the Animals and the Humans, with their vastly conflicting needs, can enjoy the space and not feel trapped in it. Animals should feel safe and comfortable to lead as normal a life as possible while the visitors, in their safety, should be able to watch them without disturbing them.
Zoo Design, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
From the establishment of the first modern zoo in 1793 to recent times, people have come a long way to recognize the ever-growing alienation from nature while questioning the purpose and functionality of such facilities. The basic ethics, space, size, safety, and overall design of zoos are being questioned, demanding a long-awaited and needed change in Zoo architecture.
We need to understand the evolution of zoo design throughout history as we strive to recognize today’s zoo architecture. The first city zoos were established in various sites across the world shortly after the French revolution, with bigger visitor spaces and smaller iron cages and enclosures for exotic animals. From the brief description, it is obvious that these facilities were designed for humans while the animals were merely displayed. There were a few outliers, but this pattern persisted for a long time until Carl Hagenbeck’s design of a zoo in Hamburg-Stellingen revolutionized zoo architecture in 1907 with spacious and open enclosures with replica panoramas. Zoo designs have since evolved with various attempts such as to create simulations of nature, create enclosure for visitors while open spaces for animals and much more; it all has grown as the extent of human knowledge of medical and behavioral requirements of animals increased and also as newer and more sustainable materials, construction processes in architecture were discovered. However, one constant throughout the evolution was that zoos were always a community social space with a high cultural significance.
Designing for Man & Animal Experiences
A Zoo houses various animals native to all over the world while being confronted with the need to attract more visitors, have operating efficiency, addressing critiques and questions, and create unique experiences for the man while being comfortable with the animal. Urban Zoos always face an issue with limited space that needs to be efficiently used. Every animal and bird has different needs and living requirements. Animals like elephants, hippopotamus need a larger enclosure in an area with a pool while giraffes need an open-to-sky one. Horses, zebras, camels, pigs can be accommodated in paddocks, while reptiles and smaller animals are usually in a single building and birds in an aviary. Nocturnal animals need artificial lights to maintain their cycle; red lights keep them active during visitors’ time in the day while bright lights at night help them sleep. Many exotic animals need to have artificial arrangements made to mimic their habitat. While enclosures are designed to meet the needs of animals, open areas must be carefully structured to meet the needs of humans. However, zoo architecture has always seen revolutions, changing with time with every design, and here are a few examples.
Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark
Founded in 1859, it remains one of the oldest zoos in Europe and one of the Denmark’s most popular cultural institutions with 250 species and more than 1.2 million visitors every year. Spread over 25-acre grounds, it has continually added new enclosures to the older institutions as zoo construction has evolved through time. An Elephant House, added in 2008, was designed by Foster+Partners according to the natural behavior and habitat of elephants with optimized thermal performance. Covered with glazed domes, the animals and visitors have blurring boundaries. Other enclosures added in recent times are the yin-yang-shaped Panda House, a collaborative project between BIG, Schønherr Landscape Architects, and MOE, and an enclosure for the Tasmanian Kangaroos, by the Scandinavian firm White Arkitekter.
The Yin-Yang Panda House encompasses a circular shape with equal open and closed areas. It strives to make the impression that the humans are the visitors to the panda’s home rather than portraying them as exotic animals put up for exhibition. The upper floors lead to rocky slopes with Nordic plants and a bamboo forest, mimicking the animal’s natural habitat while, the ground floor takes the visitors to the interior spaces. The Yin-Yang shape allows visitors to view Pandas and Elephants in a nearby enclosure. Another enclosure added in the same year of 2017 was the cylindrical house for the Tasmanian Kangaroos. The timber enclosure provides interaction for humans with the Red Kangaroos at different levels while also ensuring their safety from the poor weather. According to the architects, they designed it as a meeting ground for humans to meet the creatures of nature but on the animal’s terms.
The Orang-utan Exhibit, Perth Zoo, Australia
Perth Zoo was established in 1898 over 41-acres, and in the year 2014 added the Orang-utan exhibit, a facility simulating the arboreal environment for the Sumatran Orang-utans. Here, the design considered their physiological and intellectual needs while providing them with their habitat. Orang-utans have the intelligence of 6-year-old, and hence, it becomes of utmost importance to provide them with a stimulating home. With elevated broad walkways, the structure has-7 exhibits, all attached to climbing apparatus that mimic the branches, nests, vines, and everything naturally found in forests.
There exist many such examples of modern zoos which have brought a revolution to zoo architecture with their designs for animals and not only humans however, but there is also still a long way to go.
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