Profession

4 Key Take-Aways from the Recent Zoo Design Conference

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I was lucky to attend (and present at) The International Zoo Design Conference held in Poland in 2017. Many speakers from around the world talked about their experiences designing habitats or theorizing on the future of zoos and aquariums. While the majority of attendees were from Europe, folks from South America, Africa, and many countries in Asia presented their unique points of view. Although the theme was "Designing for Enrichment," four much deeper lessons held with me for continued thought and on-going discussion for the continued evolution of zoos and aquariums around the world. In this article originally posted to Blooloop.com, I explain those four take-aways:

  1. Euro & American Zoos are Cousins, branching from the same ancestor like an evolutionary tree.

  2. Dynamism as a new goal and design inspiration in everything habitat related.

  3. Rethink the measure and definition of success for species in captivity.

  4. Guests require that zoos care for the their animals as priority one, but often do not understand what good animal care is.

Take a look, and let me know your thoughts!

Happy Anniversary! 10 Years of DesigningZoos.com

Can you believe this summer marks ten years of my little corner of the internet talking about design and the future of zoos and aquariums? Although my posting has become more infrequent as my professional life has evolved, you--my supportive and sometimes thoughtfully critical reader--remain constant. I owe you a huge Thank You for reading my ramblings, and contributing your thoughts. For funsies, I thought we'd review a few of the highlights from the past 10 years and over 200 posts!

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Top Ten All-Time-Most-Popular Posts (by visits)

10. "Visitors: An Overlooked Species at the Zoo" (2013) by guest blogger and colleague, Eileen (Ostermeier) Hill. Discusses the critical importance of visitor studies at zoos, some hurdles to studies, and the role of designers relative to visitor studies.

9. "The Future of Zoos: Blurring the Boundaries" (2014) a second entry by guest blogger and obviously brilliant colleague, Eileen Hill. Powerpoint presentation with script about trends in zoos today and how they may play out into zoos of the future. Eileen proposes zoos of the future will by hybrids of multiple science based institutions.

8. "St. Louis Zoo's SEA LION SOUND" (2012). Showcasing the then-new exhibit at the Zoo including fly-thru video, photos of new exhibit, and interview with one of the architects from PGAV Destinations who helped bring the design into reality.

7. "SAFARI AFRICA! Revealed at Columbus Zoo" (2012). Announcement of the ground-breaking of the eventual AZA Top Honors in Design award-winning Heart of Africa (renamed). Includes renderings and site plan.

6. "Underdogs: The Appeal of the Small Zoo" (2013). Exploration of what makes small zoos so appealing to visitors, and meaningful to work for as a designer. Features Binder Park Zoo, Central Florida Zoo, and Big Bear Alpine Zoo.

5. "In Marius' Honor" (2014) by guest blogger and now Project Manager at the esteemed Monterey Bay Aquarium, Trisha Crowe. Trisha explores her emotional reaction to the Copenhagen Zoo's disposal of Marius the giraffe, and implores readers to support zoos, no matter your stance on animal rights.

4. "Small and Sad: Dubai Zoo's Relocation on Hold Again" (2009). Occurred to me today, should have been title "Small and SAND", but the sad state of the old zoo is what made this post so popular. Includes design plans and renderings--which I am sure are woefully out of date. Anyone have any updates??

3. "How to Become a Zoo Designer" (2014). After about 25,000 emails from aspiring zoo designers asking similar questions, I just went ahead and wrote it up to shortcut a step... Still, feel free to email me--I always write back. Let's be pen pals!

2. "The Next Zoo Design Revolution" (2008). One of my very first posts, which explains the popularity. Some say naïve, some say gutsy look at incremental revolution in zoos. The future of zoos has been examined at least 300 times since this one, but in re-reading, I see some kernels of accuracy. Expect an update soon...

And in the #1 spot....

1. "A Quick Lesson in Zoo Design History" (2008). Perhaps my second post ever, which again explains it's number 1 spot. A not-as-advertised look at zoo design history which, I have a feeling, has been referenced by many of the 25,000 students (above) in their zoo projects. Holla at me if you cited me!

Top Ten Recommended Reads for Zoo Designers (aside from those above)

10. "To Safari or Night Safari" (2008). I'm a sucker for the title. But this post examines the very slow to catch on trend of after-hours programming or extended zoo hours as a feasible method to increase attendance. Post-posting amendment: in particular, this is a great strategy for targeting adults without kids.

9. "Does Winter Have to be a Dead Zone at the Zoo?" (2013). I cheated a little on this one. I didn't actually post to DZ.com, but to my blog at Blooloop.com where many of my more recent posts have been landing. This one discusses another strategy to increase attendance by targeting the most difficult time of year for temperate zoos: winter.

8. "Zoo Exhibits in Three Acts" (2011). Storytelling in zoo exhibits, told through, what else?: a story.

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7. "8 Characteristics of Brand Experience" (2018). A new one! Understanding what makes strong brands so very strong is important and applicable to new attractions at zoos and aquariums. Examined through the lens of non-zoo brands, like my fav: OrangeTheory.

6. "Interactivity and Zoos" (2013). Examining the different modes of interactivity that are available in zoos, and how they can be applied to experience. A good primer.

5. "How Animal Behavior Drives Zoo Design" (2011). Starting with animals in design can be overwhelming. What information is pertinent to a designer, and what is just interesting to know. Another good primer for learning the basics of zoo design.

4. "Chasing Big Cats: Snow Leopards and Perseverance" (2017). Being a good designer is about so much more than just having cool ideas and being able to communicate them well. Learn the qualities intangible qualities that make good designers, GREAT. Don't be afraid...hint, hint.

3. "Making Responsible Tacos: Conservation Brand Perception at Zoos and Aquariums" (2015). Adapted from a talk I gave, I examine how aspirational brand should translate to experience in zoos and aquariums using the popular taco analogy. Yum. Tacos.

2. "Five Zoo Innovations that have been around for Decades"Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 (2014). Again, pulled from Blooloop. A series of 5 posts examining design elements and characteristics that American zoos have been implementing for decades. This series was an angry reaction to the 'revolutionary' design of metal pods floating through a zoo in Europe. A woman scorned...publishes 5 posts to prove how you don't know anything about innovation. Ha!

1. "Zoos in a Post Truth World" (2017). What every zoo and aquarium advocate needs to consider in this continued atmosphere of skepticism, critique, and distrust. As a zoo designer, you must be aware of changing perceptions and the power we have to shape them.

Top Ten Things I Learned in the Last Ten Years (Blogging or Otherwise...)

10. I'm not shy; I'm introverted

9. How to poop in a hole while wearing 3 three layers of snow pants

9a. Always pack enough Pepto tabs (at least 2 per day while away)

8. I'm not good at social media (see: 10 years of blogging and 600 Twitter followers, probably mostly for cat pics)

7. And speaking of cats, the rubbery buttons of a TV's remote control makes said remote an easy tool to remove cat hair from sofas and pants

6. I sleep better when flying in Business Class

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5. Always pay the extra money to hire movers to load and unload that U-Haul

4. Writing isn't hard. Just start typing and...

3. Confidence

2. I lose all 'adultness' around ice cream and baby animals

1. Zoo and aquarium people are really the best people in the world.

Here's to many more decades of Zoo & Aquarium design!

With love and respect--

Your friend, Stacey

Building Public Trust: AZA Workshop

On Monday, September 11, PGAV Destinations led a session highlighting market research that explored the question "how can we affect public perception of zoos and aquariums?" The session included brief presentations by 9 panelists, including Bob Cisneros from Big Bear Alpine Zoo, Mark Fisher from Cincinnati Zoo, John Walczak from Louisville Zoo, Bill Street from SeaWorld, Chris Schmitz from Utah's Hogle Zoo, Magdaline Southard from Monterey Bay Aquarium, Kimberley Lengel from Philadelphia Zoo, Kevin Mills from South Carolina Aquarium (presented by Emily Howard of PGAV), and Stacey Ludlum from PGAV. Individual presentations unfortunately ran 20 minutes longer than anticipated, and the majority of our session audience did not participate in the workshop. However, we did have two intrepid groups discuss their hypothetical issues. Those results are below.

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Question One:

You are a large, well-known aquarium with a large percentage of attendance from tourism. Your staff is highly respected within the industry for its innovative husbandry solutions and ability to breed and sustain longevity for its animals, but on-site market research has revealed your guests are not aware of this. You are currently designing a new shark exhibit to replace your smaller and older one that was once considered the best of the best. How do you communicate your innovative animal care at the core of your mission?

High Budget:

  • Shark Lab
  • Behind the Scenes views and tours
  • Nursery and hands-on area
  • Exhibit located in high public view

Low Budget:

  • Utilize local CVB to generate media support
  • Utilize social media to tell stories about poster child shark
  • Partner with local news for interviews, regular media segments

Question Two:

You are a small zoo with steady, flat attendance in a medium-sized city (under 1,000,000 residents). Membership accounts for half of your attendance. Market research reveals that people in your community know of you, but believe the experience is meant for small children only and think of you as essentially a petting zoo. You have recently gained AZA accreditation, and all of your staff are highly skilled. Your collection includes many native species, but you are most proud of your successes in breeding cheetah and whooping crane. How do you communicate to your visitors the high level of care involved in your successes?

High Budget:

  • Hire more staff to be interpreters on-site
  • Engage in an interactive interpretive campaign that highlights the cheetah or whooping crane
  • Adult oriented night event that celebrates cheetahs or whooping cranes and the keeper staff related to those animals

Low Budget:

  • Citizen science program tracking whooping cranes in nature

Check back for more information on this session including write-ups of the individual presentations!

 

Advanced Evolution of Chinese Zoos

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speaking at CAZG 2017

speaking at CAZG 2017

I’m writing this piece in the fifth hour of the fourteen hour flight to the U.S. from Beijing. I’ve already watched two movies, had a couple glasses of wine, and did some work. I’m reflecting on my whirlwind trip in Ordos, Inner Mongolia for the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens’ (CAZG) 2nd annual conference, where although I was only there for 24 hours, I presented twice for a total of 5 hours. While these stats are quite impressive, the most impressive thing about this trip was the evolution that I am seeing in Chinese zoos and aquariums.

I’ve been coming to China for 8 years, for projects and for exploration of the potential market for zoo designers here. Although PGAV has been fairly consistently engaged in project work in this massive country over the last decade, most of that has been related to theme parks. The sudden and intense growth of the middle class has created a thirst for leisure activities, and while museums, water parks, historic cities, natural areas, and theme parks have been highly targeted for updates and new projects, the desire for modern, innovative zoos has lagged behind. In my opinion, this is directly related to the state of Chinese society’s relationship to animals and nature: the persistent desire for tiger and rhino parts for traditional medicines; exploitation of baby animals, especially tiger cubs, for photos at zoos; the market for ivory as status symbols; the levels of pollution in the water and air.

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But recently, the Chinese government has dedicated itself to reversing these trends: last year’s historic ivory ban, the continued dedication to the Paris climate accord, and the highly visible campaigns to educate Chinese citizens against the use of animal parts in medicine (as partnerships with organizations like WWF). I’ve even seen a difference over the years in small things that we take for granted in the U.S.: recycling in airports; signs asking people not to waste paper to save the trees; marketing campaigns for cities like Ordos that highlight how green the city is; encouraging the use of reusable water bottles with clean water stations at airports.

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Even though I was only able to spend a day with the Chinese zoo association, I was elated to see the level of advancement in only the two to three years that I’ve been working with them. As I spoke to the crowd about creating spaces that respond to the nature of animals, not to coerce them, to allow them to make decisions on their own even if that decision means your visitors don’t get to see them easily or on each and every visit, I saw heads nodding. A delegate coming to my aid when another challenged my assertion that extra spaces like flexible yards and enrichment rooms are worth the effort and cost. The zoo that proudly shared their designs with me for three new projects--the incredible difference between the designs that had been completed only two years ago, and the ones completed within the month. The level of investment in aspects dedicated exclusively to welfare. The new center for conservation and education.

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The CAZG itself is advancing. The conference attendance nearly doubled in one year—only its second year. The Association has created a department dedicated exclusively to design, hiring two full-time designers to aid government-run zoos in improvements. They spent over five years creating a set of design regulations, released this year, that blow our APHIS regs out of the water.They are hungry for knowledge, and thirsty for implementation.

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All of this means that the evolution of Chinese zoos will continue to advance at a break-neck speed. And that’s a wonderful thing. The typical city zoos that are pervasive throughout the country are as deplorable as you can imagine. Undersized and rusted cages. Limited education focus, if any at all. Lack of enrichment or even natural substrates. Private facilities have and will continue to be at the forefront of innovation due to bigger budgets, but there are a few shining examples of upcoming change at public institutions such as Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo and Beijing Zoo.As long as the government continues to infuse capital into these organizations—and hopefully continue to increase that level, Chinese zoos will soon be as modern as those in the West. And, perhaps even more importantly (and as has been true throughout history), the improvements in zoos will be a reflection of the changing relationship of the Chinese people with the natural world.

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"We are at a Precipice of Zoo Evolution"

Some of you may have noticed that I have been been away for a while. I haven't been updating this blog as much as I'd like. Or, in fact, at all. I'm hoping that 2017 will bring with it a renewed dedication to the blog--and with that, a renewed connection with you, my reader. Several exciting things have happened since we've last talked. The biggest is my change in position at PGAV Destinations. I've been promoted to Director of Zoo & Aquarium Planning and Design; an honor I am humbled and invigorated by. As part of this position, I will be continuing to strategize our approach to the future of zoos and aquariums, as well as lead our efforts to spread into international markets. Both of these will likely trigger new posts as I continue to ruminate on the challenges and opportunities facing these beloved institutions.

The second biggest thing in 2016 was my small post in the world-renown Washington Post's Animalia blog. Again, I was honored to be included as an expert in the field, considering the future of zoos. If you missed it, take a look here.

The third biggest thing in 2016 is simply the start of something bigger, I hope, to come. PGAV in general has been working in China for many years, but we recently made the strategic and mission-based decision to specifically target this market for zoos and aquariums. I intentionally use the word 'mission' as we believe, not only is this market significant for our long-term business development as a firm, that the work there is a reflection of our values as a firm. We deeply believe in making a positive impact on the world with our work, and helping to shape the future of society's relationships with animals is exactly that. In China, as with many things, society's view of animals is evolving quickly. We know the impact zoos and aquariums can have on that view, and in shaping people's understanding of personal responsibility in saving the planet. Last year, we began a relationship with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens which will allow us to forge new relationships zoos and aquariums seeking education on animal wellness and visitor experience design.

2016 was a good year. Let's see what 2017 has in store for us...

 

Chasing Big Cats: Snow Leopards and Perseverance

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I’ve always been nervous about meeting new people. Socializing is not my natural state. I hated Santa--coming into our grandparents’ house, demanding me to sit on his lap. I’d run and hide under the dining room table when I heard that jolly ho-ho-ho. My stomach does flops thinking, not about the presentation to 300 people, but of the awkward mingling with conference attendees and fellow speakers before and after. I avoid parties where I don’t know at least three people closely (I gladly host them, happy in the knowledge I can always escape into hosting duties such as serving food or MCing a game). Spending three weeks on a frigid Indian mountainside in December with a handful of strangers who mostly speak languages other than my own was quite possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever attempted.

This post is about leaving your comfort zone. A critical element of personal development—and more importantly, of becoming the best designer you can possibly be.

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That morning arriving to Leh, after thirty hours of travel and four flights, I was not ready to sit and drink tea with five strangers—in a country I’ve never been. We made small talk about how the flights were and where we are from. We weren’t sure what kind of tea to drink. What is Masala? Is it with goat’s milk like my friend warned me of? How much caffeine does it have? Do I need sugar??? I didn’t know who actually spoke English and therefore could handle me asking them a question, and who would look at me panicked not understanding what the tall blonde American lady is demanding! I was tired, cranky, but also excited to finally be here. To finally be on the hunt for the elusive snow leopard.

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Several days later, after “adjusting” to the elevation of Leh (around 11,000’) and after spending a day together birding around the Himalayan foothills surrounding the town, we loaded up the SUV with our gear to hit the mountains. We headed to our camp in Hozing Valley. Situated among mountain ridges between 12,000 and 13,000’, our base camp consisted of three small sleeping tents (one for each of us), and two larger mess-style canvas tents—one serving as kitchen, one as the dining room. The dining tent had a propane heater; the kitchen had a cook and a cook’s assistant. We had a simple pit-toilet outhouse—a hole in the floor. We had no running water, no heat in our sleeping tents. It was December, and it was cold. Very cold. The coldest night was about -35 F.

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The days were filled with hiking nearly vertical slopes among boulders and on gravelly sheep-made paths, to sit in the sun on ridges overlooking the valley. We’d sit for hours, scanning the rocky cliffs with binoculars and spotting scopes. We’d layer up for the frigid morning walks starting at sun up—before the sun passed over the ridges, when accidental water spills turned instantly into icicles. Some mornings--the coldest mornings, I’d be wrapped up so thick, my shadow looked like an astronaut: two wool base layers, two pairs of snow pants on my legs; a wicking shirt, two wool base layers, a fleece vest, a fleece jacket, a down jacket, and a ski jacket on top; a scarf; two hats (one a beanie, and one a thick, (faux) fur-lined Nordic thing); three pairs of socks; a pair of wool gloves beneath a thick set of mittens. At 10:30am, the sun came up over the ridge--its warmth allowed us to remove layers, and caused our feet to sweat as we trekked up several hundred feet of steep slope in astronaut gear. Then, when the sun found its way behind the ridges again at 3:30pm, our toes began to numb as our sweat-soaked socks and boots literally froze.

It was fun. I definitely lost 5 pounds.

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But the reward was delivered on the third day: a snow leopard! The build-up to the sighting was screenplay perfection. Our trackers spotted a blue sheep (the snow leopard’s favorite prey), dead on the ridge above our camp. They inspected the frozen carcass and found no obvious signs of trauma, just a dribble of blood at the corner of his mouth. Certainly within the realm of possibility of a snow leopard kill. Later, a local reported snow leopard tracks on the road leading to our camp. Trackers dispersed across the valley, scanning the rocky ledges and cliffs with spotting scopes. We sat quietly scanning, until one of the trackers came running down a steep hillside, and delivered the news: a snow leopard.

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His (we assumed he was a male, although no one could confirm) kill was located just 150 yards from our camp—a very, very lucky chance occurrence. We watched him for four days, as he stayed to feed on the frozen carcass, fully within view. During that time, we watched patiently as he slept in the sun. And slept in the sun. And slept in the shade! And slept in the sun. Someone always had their eye on the lens, watching. And when he shifted position, we’d yell, “Head up!” and everyone ran to the scopes. He stretched like a housecat, and curled his long tail around him, using it as a pillow. We’d squeal and coo, like children. We’d celebrate every evening with a toast of cheap brandy, before heading to bed at 8pm. We became compatriots in battle, bound by one, big, fluffy kitty cat.

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The trip was 12 days in the Himalayas, split between two locales. We stayed at our tented camp for eight, adjusting the itinerary due to seeing the leopard. We also stayed at a homestay for the balance, where the accommodations were slightly more luxurious, but still with limited heat, and no indoor plumbing. At the end of the trip, we said good-bye to the local guides and staff (five of them), and the couple from Spain (who were the only paying tourists other than me) departed. My tour guide, Marta, and I headed onto Talla and Bandhavgarh to search for tigers. The accommodations there were absolutely luxurious with toilets and showers, a real bed, and a space heater. And the climate was balmy at 55-65 F. We had an amazing day and a half exploring Bandhavgarh Tiger Preserve, where 65 tigers reside in 172 square miles. Chances of seeing tigers is slightly better than seeing snow leopards in Leh, yet we saw only one, and only for five minutes.

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Even so, my trip was blessed with wildlife. Everyone we talked to spoke of how lucky we were. Most people see a snow leopard on our itinerary, but they are usually much, much further away, and for only a few minutes. We saw two (the second was just a brief interlude—a more typical tourist experience), and we saw a tiger.

I like to think this luck was a reward for my bravery. For not cancelling the trip when I couldn’t find a travel partner. For not chickening out--knowing that I get cold very easily and don’t like curry (especially now!). And it reminds me that good things generally come from sticking your neck out.

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For many years, my annual reviews at PGAV consistently pointed to one major downfall of my performance: not being assertive enough. I realized in India—as I pondered if I really knew how to identify frostbite—that I had become quite assertive. I ‘stopped asking for permission, and started asking for forgiveness.’ And many times I failed, but many more times, I didn’t. It was more than not failing. It was succeeding. Taking chances and not waiting for the “perfect time” has changed my trajectory in my professional life. I always think about design from the options that we haven’t yet tried. I explore the crazy ideas that seem, on first glance, unrealistic. I don’t back away just because there is a potential negative—because there might also be a bigger positive you don’t yet see. However, it doesn’t mean we waste time going in never-ending circles. I’ve become strong enough and brave enough to make decisions based on logic, reasoning, and a little gut—and run with them.

And you should too. Step out into the cold, or into a room full of strangers, every once in a while. Speak up. Take action. Take a chance… and maybe you, too, will be blessed with big cats.

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Making Responsible Tacos: Conservation Brand Perception at Zoos & Aquariums

From Freesamples.us

From Freesamples.us

Adapted from 2015 AZA National Conference presentation "Brand and Experience: Communicating Conservation to Millennials and Gen Z"Zoos and aquariums are evolving.  Conservation, once a secondary or tertiary goal of these institutions, has become a primary goal in recent decades—and ultimately, should become the singular, highest priority.  Most American zoos and aquariums have been developing, leading, and supporting conservation efforts on their own properties and in situ to varying degrees for many years.  However, with the creation and implementation of the AZA’s SAFE program, these institutions are making a concerted effort to unite as one powerful force for conservation.  Prioritizing conservation above other zoological needs is a challenge, but perhaps more daunting is spreading awareness of this amazing work to the general public--changing the perception of zoos and aquariums from being “a place for a fun, family day out” to being “conservation organizations that also offer a fun experience.”

This challenge comes down to brand.

From pammarketingnut.com

From pammarketingnut.com

Brand is so much more than a logo.  It is the perception that lives in your customer’s mind.  It is the accumulation of the marketing messages you put out PLUS the experiences your customers have related to your organization.  And these experiences are not limited to what they see or feel while on-site; it is also what they hear from their friends and family, what they read online, what they see on social media.  The experience is the wildcard—the intangible that affects brand perception; the piece of the brand puzzle that we don’t truly own.  But, we can influence experience by infusing brand into every aspect of the on-site experience.  Because it is more difficult to control and more often overlooked by institutions, experience is the most important aspect of brand to address today at zoos and aquariums.

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taco-bell-knows-their-target-market

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a simple example of experience influencing brand: Taco Bell vs. Chipotle. Both restaurants offer similar products: fast Mexican.  But we all clearly understand that there is a difference between the two.  This comes down to how each differentiate based on a clear definition of and dedication to brand.

From AP Images

From AP Images

Taco Bell is a value brand, catering mostly to a young market (Generation Z & young Millennials) through efficiency, and vibrant, bold marketing.

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chipotle (1)

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Chipotle, on the other hand, differentiates based on quality—both in food and in guest experience.  Chipotle espouses social and environmental responsibility through fresh, locally sourced ingredients and face-to-face interactions.  Gone are drive-thrus and ordering from a disembodied voice in a nondescript box.  Chipotle requires you to park your car, walk into the store, stand in line with other customers, order from an actual person, and has built its menu on the idea of customization.  You get exactly what you want, from a real person, giving you real food that you can smell and see being cooked. And it’s done fast. 

Chipotle knew that if they wanted to differentiate their brand from Taco Bell, they had to change everything—including the experience. They had to change the paradigm of tacos.

Today, Chipotle and Taco Bell are so different that Taco Bell doesn’t truly compete with Chipotle—despite having simila

r products.  Taco Bell competes against similar experiences. They compete against the McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Jack-in-the-Boxes of the world.

But how does this relate to zoos and aquariums?

From Conservationalliance.com

From Conservationalliance.com

Let’s start with brand perception.  As a whole, what do people think of zoos and aquariums today?  Are they thought of in the same way as more traditional conservation organizations like World Wildlife Fund or Sierra Club? Perhaps more importantly, should they be striving for that association?  Or, should they be differentiating themselves into a new brand that reflects who they are in a more meaningful way? They are different to begin with.  They have animals that people can connect with in a deeply personal way.  They have visitor experiences.  They have tacos.

The question is: what kind of taco do you want to be?  The Fun Taco? Or the Responsible Taco?

from zoomwear_spreadshirt_com

from zoomwear_spreadshirt_com

Today, zoos and aquariums are, by and large, Fun Tacos.  They provide good family experiences.  Wholesome days out.  But, as Responsible Tacos, they’ll do that and more.  They’ll provide real conservation impact through in situ programs AND opportunities for guests to get involved and get educated.  They’ll make conservation education a key goal for ALL guests, not just for those who show extra interest.

In order to become Responsible Tacos (and be recognized as such), zoos and aquariums must change the paradigm of experience.  You must realize that every moment your guest spends on-site is an opportunity to convey brand, tell stories, and educate. That every element of the physical incarnation of your organization reflects your brand’s perception. Because brand and brand perception is not JUST about your marketing message, but also inherently about experience.

How to Become a Zoo Designer

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Each week, I receive at least one email from an enthusiastic young soul asking for advice on how to become a zoo designer.  Many requests are from college students, already several years into design school.  Others are from enterprising high schoolers (and a junior high schooler or two) planning their futures.  I've even corresponded with several mid-career adults, looking for guidance on how to change career paths.  Every one of them (and, I assume, you, too!) are passionate about animals and seek to share that passion with zoo guests--to help them create connections to wildlife and become advocates for our natural resources. That's very admirable.  That's where I started (and what keeps me energized), too.

From Jacksonville Zoo

From Jacksonville Zoo

But, let's talk some realities.  As a zoo (and / or aquarium) designer, you will likely work for a private design firm, not a zoo.  Zoos these days are starting to understand the value of on-staff designers, but the reality is, very few zoos actually have them; and more often than not, they do very little actual design work, or are relegated to small projects such as signage, snack stands, or demonstration gardens, leaving major capital projects to licensed architectural firms with greater resources.  These zoo positions are usually most valuable as client representatives during the design and construction phases, acting as go-betweens (and sometimes decision-makers) for the zoo administration when communicating to designers and contractors.  I do believe we will see an increase in these types of positions becoming available, though, as institutions realize the value of having staff that truly understand and are highly literate in design and construction--they can provide great insight to their consultants about the zoo itself, local regulations, and increase the efficiency of communication between consultants and staff, not to mention the fact that they understand drawings and help prevent issues down the line thus ultimately saving the zoo money.

Cities in which zoo / aquarium design firms reside

Cities in which zoo / aquarium design firms reside

So, let's say you're ready to get a job with a firm.  Where do you start?  Within the U.S., three major firms specialize in zoo and aquarium design (depending on how you define 'major'), and are generally the three competing for the major projects: Portico Group is in Seattle; PGAV Destinations is in St. Louis; CLR is in Philadelphia.  Beyond these three, there are about 10+ small and medium firms, ranging from <5 staff to about 30 staff, located around the country that have completed zoo / aquarium design work, or specifically specialize in such.  Seattle is a hot bed of activity due to "patient zero" Jones & Jones, from which most, but not all, firms that specialize in zoo design spawned.  Wichita, New Orleans, and Boston are home to several others.  If you decide you want to be a zoo or aquarium designer, you will likely live in one of these cities.  I hope that's okay.

http://www.bdonline.co.uk/architects-desks-ken-shuttleworth-founder-of-make-architects/5030850.article

http://www.bdonline.co.uk/architects-desks-ken-shuttleworth-founder-of-make-architects/5030850.article

You've gotten a job!  Congratulations!  You've moved in, you're ready to go.  Now what's the day to day for a zoo designer?  Likely the first few years will be painful.  Trust me.  It's not what you expect.  You'll have long hours (50-60+ hour weeks regularly) staring into the abyss of the computer, drawing things that someone else designed.  Figuring out the details like the hinge on a gate or how to downspout a thematic wall.  You likely will not do site visits or even be able to meet the clients for several years, until you've proven your worth.  You may be shuffled from one project to the next without seeing a project from start to finish, often juggling multiple projects at once.  But, it does get better, although not much more glamorous!  When you do finally reach the point in your career when you get to visit the zoo you're working singularly for, you generally only get to see the inside of a conference room on a quick one or two day trip--where you'll spend the evening working in your hotel room on drawings that you didn't get to complete because you spent the whole day inside that conference room.

Still interested? Yes?  Okay--let's get to what you really want to know:  How do you become a zoo designer?

https://playrific.com/m/10080/zoo-designer-math-game

https://playrific.com/m/10080/zoo-designer-math-game

I wish there was a magic answer to this.  There is no school of zoo design.  No specific university, no highly specialized curriculum.  Right now, if you want to become a zoo designer, you have to do it of your own accord.  Most of today's successful zoo and aquarium designers fell into their jobs.  They may have done a college project or volunteered at their local zoo, but the vast majority became zoo designers by dumb luck.  They were architects or landscape architects that happened to work at a firm that happened to get a zoo project, and over time, one project became many.  Before they knew it, they were experts.  But, the fact that I get so many inquiries is telling me this is slowly changing.  As zoos evolve, and exhibits become more engaging, young people are realizing the potential for design careers focused entirely on zoos and aquariums (museums and theme parks, too!).  This will lead to more and more students with specialized experiences and focused educations.  So how will you stand out??

Here are the basics I recommend:

My alma mater, Michigan State, has a concentration within Zoology focusing on Zoos and Aquariums. If you can stand the snow, go there! (Go Green!)

My alma mater, Michigan State, has a concentration within Zoology focusing on Zoos and Aquariums. If you can stand the snow, go there! (Go Green!)

  • Two degrees: Architecture or Landscape Architecture AND Zoology / Biology / Animal Sciences. It does not matter which design field you choose. The majority of the early design firms specializing in zoo design were traditionally landscape architects. That has changed. Architecture and landscape architecture are inextricably integrated when it comes to zoo design. Of course, if you are more inclined to design for aquariums, choose architecture. But if you want to design only for zoos or for both zoos and aquariums, go with what is more appealing to you. Do you like to design structures? Or are outdoor environments more appealing to you? Go with what will be most interesting to you. As for the science degree, this is not required, but is very appealing to employers. This will set you apart from other design-only students. You could also just get a minor, but doing so will be very challenging, as zoology is a highly rigorous degree while design school is extremely time-consuming. It is possible, but it will not be fun.

  • Focus every project where you have a choice of topic on zoos or aquariums. Believe me, it will be a challenge. You will get a lot of push-back from design profs wanting to encourage you to expand and explore. Go ahead, but if you truly believe you want to design zoos, you'll want every opportunity possible to explore this complex field.

  • Get an internship at a zoo / aquarium. Doing anything. You don't have to have a design internship. Repeat. You do not need a design internship at a zoo. You do need behind-the-scenes experience. Do an animal care internship. Do a marketing internship. Do whatever kind of internship you can get. You will need to understand every aspect of zoos in order to design effectively for them.

  • Get an internship at a ZOO / AQUARIUM design firm. Do not just get an internship at the local architecture firm near your university. This is a chance to see how zoo design really works, and get your foot in the door to one of the very few specialist firms in the country. While you are there, work hard. Ask lots of questions. Share your passion. We remember it when it comes time for you to send in your resume after all those years of school.

  • Research and network on your own. Visit zoos and aquariums as often as possible, attend AZA conferences, visit zoo design firms, get to know designers, get to know your local zoo. Basically, ask loads of questions, read as much on the topic as possible, get tours and behind the scenes as often as possible. Learning on this topic is not going to happen in school. You have to spend your own personal time researching and educating yourself.

One of the wonderful things about the zoo and aquarium industry is that most people involved are kind and willing to help, if you ask.  Zoo and aquarium personnel are in it for

From http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/when-zoo-flipper-became-a-nipper/story-e6frewt0-1225914249085

From http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/when-zoo-flipper-became-a-nipper/story-e6frewt0-1225914249085

the love of animals, and usually are more than happy to answer questions or direct you to someone who can.  I had a lot of great people help me get to where I am today, and hopefully, I can repay their kindness by helping others on their own journey.  As always, if you have any questions or need advice, just ask.

If you'd like another zoo designer's opinion, check out Jon Coe's paper on how to become a zoo designer.  There is definitely much overlap!

Good luck!!

I Left My Heart in 'Heart of Africa'

Updated October 1, 2015:

I'm overjoyed to announce our project has received Top Honors in Exhibit Design from the AZA! I was lucky enough to watch CZA President and CEO accept the award at the annual awards luncheon at the National AZA Conference 2015 in Salt Lake City.  Absolutely one of the great moments of my life so far...

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It might surprise you to hear that I’ve been working at PGAV for 11 years now, and I’ve only seen a few projects that I worked on open.  That’s something you may not know about being a designer (it’s kind of the industry dirty little secret); many projects that you dedicate years of work to, get shelved.industry-secrets  Even with a high industry success rate, like what PGAV has, many projects disintegrate and disappear entirely.

What’s perhaps more interesting than that is that my role specifically at PGAV is generally focused on the largest scale planning—master plans for zoos and aquariums, conceptual storylines and site planning, exhibit programming and initial layout—which means my involvement in projects quickly tapers as more and more detail develops.  For example, although I understand how to put together a swing gate in a wood fence, there are highly talented architects in our office who more thoroughly understand the exact finish, gauge, hardware, species of wood, width of gaps, and hinge detailing, and draw them quicker and more efficiently than I.  These people pick up where I drop off, and they continue to see the project through to construction.  Because of this, I often am not involved as projects develop past initial or conceptual planning.  But, Columbus Zoo’s Heart of Africa is different.  My involvement in this project continued, to one extent or another, from the master plan development through construction documents.  This is truly the first project that I was so deeply involved in that actually made it to opening day.  And I’m excited.

Line to get into Zoo at 9:01 am.

I got to visit Heart of Africa (originally called ‘Safari Africa’) on opening weekend which happened to fall on Memorial Day.  My visit fortuitously coincided with what will likely be one of the biggest weekends the exhibit will ever see.  I was nervous about this, but happy to say, despite the massive crowds, the exhibit worked.  I even overheard probably the best compliment possible from a mom visiting a zoo: “That was so worth the crowd!” Amazing.

The savanna

Let me tell you a little about the project.  It’s a 43-acre expansion of the original zoo onto land that was previously used for farming.  The expansion area, located to the northwest, provided an awkward connection point, and an even longer walk from the front door than already existed.  Because of this, the project includes a new tram system connecting guests from the front door of the zoo to the front door of the exhibit.

Entry gate to Heart of Africa

Guests arrive to Heart of Africa through a massive entry gate, demarking the outskirts of the modern day African village built up around the front gate to an East African National Park.  The village grew over time, as more and more tourists visited the Park, and its mixture of cultural influences are obvious in the architecture and murals found throughout.  Just inside the village fence, (thematically) travelers are encouraged to leave their camels for rest in the corral.  Hints of the villagers’ daily life dot the path into the heart of the village.  The village itself contains the restaurant (with views to both the lions and savanna, as well as the camel ride paths), snack stand, ticket and photo stand, retail shop, and amphitheater.  But the real attractions here are the lions and the view beyond—to the 8-acre savanna.

Camel yard...These are actually the ride camels relaxation digs.

All of the conservation projects represented at Heart of Africa--all of which Columbus Zoo supports.

Props. Villagers have limited to access to clean water and regularly have to travel long distances to get some.

Other means for the villagers to get water.

Retail shop designed to mimic a modern day open market.

The village plaza

The restaurant

Highly themed restaurant tracks conservation programs and Jack Hannas many trips to Africa.

The lion exhibit extends from the village around past the National Park entry gates.  Just within the entry gates, the Rangers’ work station and airplane hangar sit.  The lions often are found here, lounging in the shade which happens to be surrounded by windows.  You won’t get any closer than this.  In the hangar, a transport plane encourages lions and children to explore, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get an unexpected face-to-face.

The village school house serves as a small amphitheater. This is a reuse of an existing historical structure on-site.

Clever school house bulletin boards touches on some of the conservation programs CZA supports.

The view of the lion habitat and across the savanna beyond from the village plaza.

The National Park Entry Gates

The lions enjoy hanging out where everyone can see them.

The airplane in its hangar

Visitors can climb inside, and if the lions want to, they can stare each other down through the airplane windows.

Past the lions, the savanna unfolds fully.  In the middle of the savanna and closest to the guest path, the watering hole exhibit allows keepers to rotate education and exhibit animals throughout the day.  Currently, the rotation occurs just about hourly.  While I was there, a group of zebra and antelope inhabited the yard as I entered; on my exit, a flock of flamingos.  This really got people talking which, ultimately, is the whole purpose.

Watering hole, first thing: Zebras

Watering hole later in the day: Flamingos

The watering hole is also where the cheetah run demonstration occurs, providing a wholly different experience than seen at other zoos.  This exhibit allows for a looping run, rather than just a straight run, and the keepers can easily change the run route to keep the exercise fun and enriching for the cats.

Guests lined up to see the Cheetah Run demo

Male Cheetah running

Female cheetahs and dog pals after their big run

The cheetahs also have a permanent exhibit area highlighting the wonderful conservation program, Cheetah Conservation Fund, which the Zoo supports through funding.  The exhibit area is basically an outdoor yard for the cheetahs, who are all used in education programming around the country.  This means they have been hand-raised and bonded with keepers and litter mate Labradors to ensure they are tractable.

The cheetahs permanent home; Themed to Cheetah Conservation Fun headquarters.

These Cheetahs enjoy public interaction.

The savanna also includes a specialized giraffe feeding yard.  This area allows the keepers to keep track of which animals have participated in the timed feedings—meaning, everyone remains on their appropriate diet.  The feeding platform gets guests out into the savanna, providing an unimpeded view of the seemingly unending (meaning, no barriers anywhere!) savanna.  Even when feeding is not occurring, the platform is open for viewing, and guess what--the giraffes like to hang out right there for up-close views.

View from Giraffe yard.

Giraffes munching when not being fed by the guests. Clever placement of feeder ensures the giraffe like to stay where the people are.

Past the giraffes is Jack Hanna’s tented camp.  Here you can explore a Jeep that has seen better days (as witnessed by the car parts nearby), and two tents filled with Jack’s supplies.  One tent and campsite has been overrun by vervet monkeys—an authentic African experience (for those of us who have been to Africa)!  The monkeys’ exhibit is filled with climbing structures and camping accoutrements.  Keepers are able to scatter treats as enrichment throughout the space to keep the critters active.  While I was visiting, the monkeys seemed to really enjoy sitting on the camp table and playing ‘paddy cake’ with the guests through the glass.

We worked hard to keep this stand of existing osage orange trees in the middle of the site.

Weaver birds in the tree!

Vervets are entertained by guests.

Climb into the Jeep.

Overall, the exhibit has turned out just beautifully.  So many of the original intentions and ideas are spot on.  So much so, you can even compare the original renderings to site photos and clearly see how they align.  It’s not often this so cleanly occurs without significant changes.  It is a testament to the relationship between the Zoo and PGAV, and the Zoo’s clear vision, experience with large scale projects, and drive to achieve such a high level of success.  Well done, team!

Fun and informative signs found throughout.

Lovely touches like these hand painted shade cloth and simple graphic enhance the experience.

Species ID signs are themed but consistent from species to species.

Inside the seating area of the restaurant.

View from the restaurant to the lions and savanna beyond.

View from the other seating area into the camel ride yard.

Camel ride yard--not your typical camel ride.

Muraling around the exhibit enhance the messaging and experience.

Drums and musical instruments for kids to bang on serve as fun interactives as well as adding authentic sounds to the space.

Merchandising includes Fair Trade products made in Africa. I bought that giraffe.

More typical

PGAV: A Love Story

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Over at the PGAV Destinations Blog, I posted a rare, personal look into my life while working at PGAV.  I try my best on this blog to be as unbiased about our company as possible; my intentions for the blog were always to share industry knowledge, not to market.  However, I think the post candidly expresses what a lot of people go through, whether architects or teachers or accountants, and ultimately is a nice reminder that although life can truly be a bitch, there's always a silver lining, if you look for it. Through this process, I realized that I don't express my gratitude enough for those things and those people that enrich and inspire my life, so to all my readers, I extend a heartfelt thank you.

Please enjoy this kitty who perfectly expresses how I feel about all of you.

a.aaa-I-love-you-couch

The Future of Zoos: Blurring The Boundaries

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By Eileen Hill The second group of PGAV's internal Specialty Development Team focused on Zoo and Aquarium Design has wrapped up their year of intense learning with their capstone project predicting the future of zoos and aquaria.  Below, Eileen explains her vision of the hybridization of zoos with other institutions as well as some other long-range thoughts. ( The text below is a transcript of her presentation to go along with the slideshow.)

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(Slide 2) I’m going to start with a brief overview on the evolution of zoos, and how I think this evolution will play out in the future. I have focused primarily on what future zoos are going to look like, what some of the new types of zoos will be, and how these different types of zoos will blur the boundaries with other institutions.  That’s what I’m calling the hybrid zoo.  And I’m going to talk about several types of hybrid zoos. And I’ll end with some more far-out ideas for future zoos – looking much deeper into the future with some exciting (some might say crazy) future possibilities.

(Slide 3) So - When we think about what zoos will look like in the future, we should probably start w/ the question – will we evenhavezoos in the future? Some people believe that zoos will completely die out – that ethical concerns with keeping individual animals in captivity will completely trump all other concerns, including other moral quandaries related to protecting the animal species as a whole.

I disagree with these people.

In the 21st century, wild animal populations are going to be subjected to almost unimaginable challenges and crises brought about my massive human changes to the environments in which they live.  Zoos will continue to exist – not just as places of recreation or entertainment or even to draw attention to these issues – they will exist as a moral imperative and as a last refuge for animals against the growing storm.

(Slide 4) But we all know zoos are not just for animals.  They have always been and will always be about people too. In the 21st century – people are going to need zoos too.  Maybe not as much as the animal species who are dependent on them for their very survival, but we’re going to need zoos. I’ve been interested in this issue of nature-deficit disorder for along time – and if you haven’t read this book (pub. 2005), you should.  It’s about the issue of how our kids are losing access to nature in an increasingly urbanized, impoverished and technology-dependent world.  It’s about the need to get everyone, kids especially, back out into nature, into the woods, etc.  It’s based on the concept of biophilia. Zoos are uniquely positioned to fill this void and to give us more opportunities to interact with nature in a positive way. But enough of the sad stuff.  I’m not here today to talk about these issues.  What I want to talk about is what zoos are going to look like in the future.

(Slide 5) Today, we have a wealth of different wildlife institutions, devoted to the care and management of wild animal collections and populations. Today’s accredited zoos balance four (sometimes competing) goals of recreation, education, conservation, and research. These different institutions are distinguished from one another by their focus, their draw, their size, and their mission statement.  One might be a small owl sanctuary near your neighborhood – another is a sprawling wildlife reserve that spans three countries. So, as you can see, we already have a lot of different types of “zoos” – and I’m defining “zoo” rather broadly.

(Slide 6) So what is a zoo?

We all think we know what they are – they’re these urban parks (usually one per city), they’re flat and horizontal, they’re mostly outdoors, where we keep different animal collections on display.  On a nice day, when the weather is nice, you bring your kids in the stroller for the afternoon as a leisurely outing.  Sometimes you grab lunch there.  Usually it’s a quick drive – maybe a half hour or less.  And you’re always home by dinnertime.  You never go to other zoos besides your home city zoo, because why should you?  They all have the same animals, and they all look the same – right?  WRONG. What I hope to do today is to talk about some different types of zoos than what we think of as the “normal” zoo.  What are some of the future directions we might be heading in?

(Slide 7) But before I talk about future zoos, we have to take a quick trip to the past. After the first couple of slides, you’re probably thinking I’m very pessimistic about the future of our zoos.  But I’m not!  In fact, I’m extraordinarily optimistic about the future of zoos, and I’m really excited about where we’re going. Because I can see just how far we’ve come in the past hundred years –Today’s zoos evolved from royal collections, menageries and circuses. Animals were displayed by themselves in small bare cages, with no thought of animal welfare and no understanding of how to properly care for the strange and exotic animals in the collection. Recreation, status, and economics were the only concerns.  Education, conservation, and animal welfare were not concerns of these prototype zoos. So imagine just how far we’ve come in a little over a hundred years.  I’m sure the next hundred years of zoo evolution will be even more amazing.

(Slide 8)  Here’s some thinking on the evolution of zoos, from George Rabb – former head of the Brookfield Zoo. This diagram is from 1992, regarding the future of zoos.  It anticipated a much greater focus on conservation. In a lot of ways, we’re already here, at least in the U.S.  Just about every AZA accredited zoo has a primary focus on conservation, ecosystems, biodiversity, in-situ research, and more.

So where are we going from here?  What happens when we extend that line further into the future?Some caveats:

  • This implies a linear evolution of zoos.
  • That zoos all started from the same place, and future zoos are all headed in the same direction along a singular line of evolution.

(Slide 9) But we all know evolution is usually diagrammed as a tree – the evolutionary tree of life. (Plus I’m a landscape designer – I have to use the tree analogy).

I see future zoo types as branching out from what has come before, in more and more different types, in a constant pattern of growth and evolution and splitting apart and forming new types we haven’t even begun to imagine. Some of these branches will intermingle with other branches and other types of institutions, forming new hybrid institutional forms. In fact, I believe this hybrid zoo is going to be a major trend over the next 50 years.

(Slide 10) So what do I mean by a hybrid zoo? We tend to think of types and categories of wildlife institutions as separate boxes, with no overlap. A wildlife rehabilitation center is completely distinct from an animal theme park, and so on. But the reality is that the distinctions between them are not so clear, and they will become more alike as we move forward.  That’s what I’m calling the hybrid zoo.

(Slide 11) Here are some examples of these blurred boundaries.

Moving farther into 21st century zoo design, these boundaries will blur even further. The future zoo will occupy the middle ground – this gradient of green between a more naturalistic side and a more human-centered artificial side. These relationships do not have to be opposing dichotomies but rather rich interplays.

Microsoft PowerPoint - Future_of_Zoos_Hill_withNotes_compressed_

(Slide 12) Here’s an example.  Right now, in St. Louis, if you want to see art, you go to the art museum.  If you want to learn about history – the history museum.  You want science at the history museum?  Too bad! You want gardens at the zoo?  Well, you might be in luck.  After all, the full historical name is “zoological park.” And we’re starting to see science displays creep into zoos.  And more and more art is making its way to zoos as well.

So why do these have to be separate institutions?  Why can’t we have one hybrid institution, where you can go and see animals and art, and learn some science and history, and have fun all the while doing it?  What sort of zoo would that be?

(Slide 13) Well, it might look something like this:  our own City Museum. This is a highly interactive, multi-story, zoo-like museum that combines animals with art, history, science, and play. It’s a tactile and sensory rich experience, in which visitors can scramble through underground chambers like burrowing prairie dogs, or climb into a lofty nest high in the trees, or playfully splash in a river grotto. Where they can physically be the animals they have come to see – the modern explorer and adventurer in an urban wilderness of visual and tactile richness. Opportunities for a multifaceted cultural experience, with an emphasis on rotating exhibitions and freeform visitor activities. Opportunity to repurpose un-used urban buildings.

(Slide 14) Here’s another example:  COSI = Center of Science and Industry. Science museum on Scioto riverfront in downtown Columbus Ohio – opened here in 1999, institution since 1964. Really cool Ocean zone:  Poseidon themed interactive water play area, where we learn about things like laminar flow and water surface tensions, while having fun soaking our friends in the process. Why is there not an aquarium here?  This is the perfect place for it.

(Slide 15) Here is the next hybrid zoo type:  this is what we do here at PGAV so I’m not going to go into much detail. Suffice it to say – the hybrid zoo/theme park has been around for awhile, but the trend is becoming bigger and bigger as we move into the future, and in fact it is one of the primary branches for the future of zoo evolution. In the future, the primary focus of such theme parks will still be on recreation and entertainment, and they will continue to lead the way in creating great visitor experiences and great storytelling. But the theme parks will draw more and more from other zoos and wildlife institutions.  Conservation, education and even research will likely be a greater part of the institutions’ (and the public’s) focus in the future. There will be more sharing – and more blurring - between theme parks and other zoo institutions.

(Slide 16) Here’s another hybrid type.  This is a map of Columbus OH, showing the Zoo (the orange circle) as well as several parks and urban greenways. Urban zoos are going to become decentralized and modeled on the university concept with multiple regional campuses scattered throughout the city and region. Merge with other urban greenspaces:  metro parks, green trails, city parks and regional urban greenways. Oases throughout the city - a small aquarium here, a monkey island there. Multitude of smaller environments to maintain an educational and recreational access to the wild and to nature. The urban zoo will become more accessible, from both a physical and economic standpoint. More emphasis on local wildlife. Opportunities for nature recreation:  ziplining, kayaking, ropes courses, bicycling, etc.

(Slide 17) Here’s another, a relatively new kind of zoo that we’re going to see a lot more of in the future:  the safari park. A sprawling, regional destination – a hybrid between a standard zoo and a large wildlife preserve, usually housing African safari-type animals. Adventure park and destination, a full-day and possibly multi-day trip. 1,800 acre zoo visited by 2 million people annually, houses over 2,600 animals representing more than 300 species, as well as 3,500 plant species. Lots of different animal tour and recreational opportunities:  caravan safaris to giraffe and rhino exhibits, behind the scenes safaris, cheetah runs, ropes courses, zip lines.

(Slide 18)  Another example:  the Wilds. 9,154 acres (37.04 km²) of reclaimed coal mine land. The Wilds is the largest wildlife conservation center for endangered species in North America. Home to over 25 non-native and hundreds of native species, including Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Przewalski's Horses, and Hartmann's Mountain Zebras. Private, non-profit -  The International Center for the Preservation of Wild Animals, Inc. (ICPWA)– now working in partnership with the Columbus Zoo open between the months of May and October.

(Slide 19) Safari parks are destined to be huge regional draws with the potential for overnight/multi-day stays. Potential for ecotourism and “glamping” – in a yurt. San Diego Safari Park has the “Roar and Snore Safari” where you spend the night in an upscale tent (upper left). The Wilds has the yurts at Nomad Ridge (photos on right). Varying levels of luxury and ruggedness – I’d rather sleep in the fancy yurt in the center instead of that open air birds nest.

(Slide 20) When we think of national park wildlife, we think of the animals as being completely wild. These wildlife encounters, usually from our vehicles, are seen as a completely wild encounter with unadulterated nature.  We believe that this is the “real deal”. We never really think of animals in the national parks or wildlife reserves as anything but completely wild. But the truth is, there really is no such thing as true, untouched “wilderness” anymore.

(Slide 21) The animals in national parks are (for the most part) free-ranging, but they are still intensely and actively managed. This happens in not just the North American parks but also those in Africa. Examples:

  • At Rocky Mountain National Park, rangers manage elk herd sizes through a variety of birth control techniques
  • There are concerns at Kruger National Park in South Africa, where there are now arguably too many elephants that are destroying most of the vegetation.

National parks are really not so different from zoos

  • More and more control measures are being instituted (bear-proof food lockers, etc.)
  • Much of the park rangers’ time is spent monitoring the animals, relocating nuisance individuals when necessary, tracking the size and health of herd populations, eradicating invasive and exotic animal species, and more

Future for these parks - even more wildlife management to protect the animal populations; more borrowing and sharing of ideas with zoos and other wildlife institutions.

(Slide 22) Final hybrid type. For much of their history, many wildlife rehabilitation centers refused to accommodate visitors. These are places that nurse sick, injured or orphaned wildlife back to health, for release back into the wild. They have seen visitors as nuisances or distractions at best or, at worst, as people in direct opposition to their stated goals. Some have associated visitor accommodation with the “lesser” goals of recreation and entertainment. But that has been changing.  These places are realizing that their facilities are unique places for visitor education and awareness, and are really starting to attract visitors with interpretive experiences and elaborate visitor facilities. They will continue to merge with other types of zoos as we move forward.

(Slide 23)  Ok, that was a quick overview of several different types of hybrid zoos.  Now I’m moving on to other directions:  Looking further into the future, many of these trends are for zoos 50 to 100 years from now.

(Slide 24) First Trend:  the Bubble Ecology Zoo – a self-contained place that replicates full ecological systems and habitats, in order to best house animal species outside of their preferred/original climatic and bioregional zone. Inspired by the ideas of Buckminster Fuller. We are already starting to do this, but this is taking it one step further to create a fully-functioning self-contained ecosystem. Designed by an associate of Buckminster Fuller. Still world’s largest closed system. Now owned by the University of Arizona since 2011. 3.14-acre structure. Generally considered to be an unmitigated disaster (from the perspective of a social experiment), but is still inspiring future zoos.

  • Info from web: “Constructed between 1987 and 1991, it explored the web of interactions within life systems in a structure with five areas based on biomes, and an agricultural area and human living and working space to study the interactions between humans, farming and technology with the rest of nature. It also explored the use of closed biospheres in space colonization, and allowed the study and manipulation of a biosphere without harming Earth's.”

(Slide 25) Houses plants collected from all around the world. Opened in 2001. Info from Web:

  • The domes consist of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal, inflated, plastic cells supported by steel frames. The first dome emulates a tropical environment, and the second a Mediterranean environment.
  • The Tropical Biome, covers 3.9 acres and measures 180 ft high, 328 ft wide and 656 ft long. It is used for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana trees, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature and moisture level.
  • The Mediterranean Biome covers 1.6 acres and measures 115 ft high, 213 ft wide and 443 ft long. It houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various sculptures.
  • Meandering path with views of the two biomes, planted landscapes, including vegetable gardens, and sculptures that include a giant bee and towering robot created from old electrical appliances

(Slide 26) Info from Web:

  • "Desert Dome" is the world's largest indoor desert, as well as the largest glazed geodesic dome in the world.  Opened 2002. Beneath the Desert Dome is the Kingdoms of the Night,and both levels make up a combined total of 84,000 square feet.  The Desert Dome has geologic features from deserts around the world: Namib Desert of southern Africa; Red Center of Australia; and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest United States.
  • Lied Jungle is one of the world's largest indoor rainforests:  Visitors can walk along a dirt trail on the floor of the jungle as well as on a walkway around and above the animals.  Opened 1992. 123,000 square feet of floor space, of which 61,000 square feet is planted exhibit space; 35,000 square feet of display management area; and 11,000 square feet of education area

(Slide 27)  Designed unveiled in 2010, but plans shelved in 2011 due to loss of funding.  Also included plans for a hotel. Info from web:

  • 112 feet high and larger than the Tropical House at Eden. The project covers 172,000 square feet and will simulate the natural African rain forest habitats of the Congo. It includes an undulating dome which will be one of the largest ETFE clad free form roof structures in the world and contain a jungle canopy with an authentic climate.
  • The 'Heart of Africa' Biodome will be home to a band of gorillas, a large troop of chimpanzees, okapi (rare giraffe-like creatures), birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.
  • An interactive water ride will provide extensive views of the animal enclosures.
  • Themed retail and dining facilities will also be incorporated.

(Slide 28) Architectural Design Competition for a Tropical Garden. Unbuilt, designed in 2011

(Slide 29) Designed in 2009. Four biozones:  Central Asian Steppe, Arctic Pole, Asian Temperate Forest, Central Asian Mountain. Info from web:

  • “The architects conceived an intelligent rehabilitation of the zoological island of Korkeassari from the circulation in the different biozones to the construction of a contemporary entrance edifice. Here the architecture disappears in favor of controlled geography.”

Described by architects:

  • “The zoological island of Korkeasaari will be cut off again. Its architectural interventions will be concentrated to make it wild and mysterious once more – a park / garden as a place of popular privilege, the nobility of the future city.
  • Architecture disappears in favour of controlled geography, like the resurgence of a neighboring landscape. The entrance grouping the set of utilities crucial to the running of the zoo becomes a focus of visual identity, somewhere between form and shapelessness, pierced with cavities.
  • Like layers of skin peeled back to receive an implant, there will be an above and a below that dialogue and interpenetrate one another. Areas of light, uncertainty, reflections and depths will be developed, offering the first emotions of a visit that will play on time and the seasons through four biozones :
    • Central Asian Steppe
    • Arctic Pole
    • Asian Temperate Forest
    • Central Asian Mountain”

(Slide 30) Multistory zoo. Why not go vertical?  Especially in increasingly urbanized and dense populated areas. Zoos don’t have to be horizontal.  Aquariums have been going vertical for decades.

Dutch Pavilion:  explored topics of ecology, congestion, population density, the relationship between natural and artificial

  • 6 levels:  dune landscape, greenhouse landscape, pot landscape (which has trees), rain landscape, and more
  • Info from web:
  • “The idea of the pavilion was characterized by the superimposition of six ways of being of the landscape.  From the ground floor, the "dune landscape" leading to "greenhouse landscape," space in which nature and, above all, agricultural production, showed strong union with life, even in the new high tech world.In the "pot landscape" big pots hosting the roots of trees located on the top floor, while throwing screens and digital images of light and color messages.
  • "Rain landscape was changing in the space devoted to water, which was turned into a screen and in support of audiovisual messages; large trunks of trees populated the" forest landscape" while building on top of the" polder landscape "hosted large wind blades and a large green area.”

(Slide 31) Star-shaped tower based on a nucleus of a tree trunk, designed to maximize space, views, and circulation. Sustainable strategies:  rainwater harvesting, solar power. Info from Web:

  • “The Vertical Zoo is a balanced and sustainable space where people and animals can coexist in harmony. Wrapped in lush vegetation, the star-shaped building makes use of green building strategies to reduce heat gain, encourage natural ventilation and soak up rainwater. Totally self-sufficient, the tower's aim is to be a sustainable refuge for all animal kingdom species.
  • Built from a six armed star-shaped level designed to maximize space, views and circulation. It is based on a nucleus or a tree trunk from which emerges six branches, each 20 sq meters in size which all serve different programmatic needs. These program blocks provide space for zoo activities, visitor needs, administration, circulation and ventilation, and spaces for sustainability. Modular by design, more star-shaped levels can be added on top as needed or as funding becomes available for new facilities.
  • Capable of providing its own water and energy through rainwater collection and solar power. Arrangement of the star-shaped levels encourages natural ventilation and improves views. Multiple towers can be built together to create a larger interconnected complex.
  • The Vertical Zoo is designed to be as much about the animals as it is about the people who visit and encourages meeting and cohabitation as a way to promote equanimity between the species.”

(Slide 32) A competition for the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve.  Info from web:

  • A towering habitat meant to resemble a natural cliff that would also provide nesting ground for migratory birds
  • Goal:  recreate a cliff habitat for the types of animals that would naturally be living in such an environment
  • Footpath winding around an inner core of animal enclosures, all within a net-like steel shell that lets in air and sunlight as well as a controlled amount of rainwater in certain areas. The nets and cables support vegetation that gives the tower a more natural feel, and select pockets serve as open-air nesting for the birds.
  • Visitors reach the tower in cable cars connected to the public transportation system, and can then take in an even more spectacular view on a high-level observation deck.

(Slide 33) Low-impact zoo:  a Zero Energy Zoological Island in South Korea. Sustainable strategies:  zero-carbon transport systems, renewable energy sources, rainwater collection sites, and all waste would be reused as either composted fertilizer or biofuel. Roughly dodecahedron-shaped habitat tower. Info from web:

  • “The zoo’s landscape of natural peaks and valleys is ideal for zoo development. The flat valleys could host animals, while more mountainous areas could be protected and treated as nature reserves. All transportation, energy sources and building systems would be housed in a so-called “infrastructural green belt” located at a height of 20 meters. Everything above and below would remain untouched.”

(Slide 34) A wildlife corridor is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or structures (such as roads, development, or logging). Huge, regional scale – possibly spanning multiple countries. Allows an exchange of individuals between populations. This may potentially moderate some of the worst effects of habitat fragmentation,wherein urbanization can split up habitat areas, causing animals to lose both their natural habitat and the ability to move between regions to use all of the resources they need to survive. Habitat fragmentation due to human development is an ever-increasing threat to biodiversity, and habitat corridors are a possible mitigation. Here are some examples of wildlife bridges, which allow animals to cross human structures unimpeded. Especially useful for wide-ranging animals like wolves (Though, if I’m a wolf, I’m hanging out right by the wildlife bridge for prey).

(Slide 35) Here’s another example:  green roofs. Becoming increasingly common. Scattered throughout dense urban areas on multiple rooftops. These could become home to migrating bird species and other migrating animal populations.

(Slide 36) Virtual or digital zoo is a way to interact with animals remotely, using technology. We all remember the PandaCam Crisis of 2013, also known as the government shut-down, when the Smithsonian’s National Zoo live feed from the panda exhibit went dark. As new technologies emerge, there will be more and more opportunities to view and interact with animals all around the world. The world is shrinking. To be honest, I find this type of zoo much less compelling.  There is NO substitute for real, live, face-to-face interaction with real animals.

(Slide 37) In all likelihood we will have the technology to bring back extinct animal species in the next century. Advances in cloning technology and genome mapping. Likely species include:

  • Wooly mammoths, dodo birds, passenger pigeons, a relative of the zebra called the quagga, and the so-called "Tasmanian wolf," (which died out in the 1930s, according to Michael Noonan, a biologist at Canisius)
  • Not dinosaurs – we’re not making Jurassic Park

There are obvious, enormous ethical issues with this, but I’m not going to open that can of worms today.

(Slide 38) What I will say is this: This is probably going to happen in the next centuryso we should probably be thinking about what that means.

  • What does this mean for future zoos?  Will these be the new pandas?  The superstar species that draws most of the visitors?
  • If offered a live mastodon, what zoo will turn them away?
  • How do we keep these species from becoming just a mere curiosity?
  • How will we know if their physical, environmental, social and intellectual needs are being met?
  • Shouldn’t the ultimate goal be reintroduction to the wild rather than keeping a captive population?

It’s certainly a complicated issue, but a very real possibility.

(Slide 39) We’ve been sending animals (specifically mammals)up into space since the late 1940s. Lots of primates through the 1950s and 1960s. Even today, experiments with fish, mice, and more on the International Space Station. Primarily for research purposes thus far. What happens when we start to colonize space?

(Slide 40) Eventually we’re going to start colonizing space – the moon, Mars, an asteroid, the moon Europa, or elsewhere in the solar system. When we think of space colonies, we tend to think they will look something like this: Barren, dull, lots of metal and hard surfaces; The only life forms are human.

(Slide 41) But I think future space colonies will eventually look something more like this:  with simulated natural habitats and lots of different life forms. Stanford Torus:  1975 proposed designfor a space habitat capable of housing 10,000 to 140,000 permanent residents. Info from web:

  • Ring-shaped rotating space station
  • Interior space of the torus itself is used as living space, and is large enough that a "natural" environment can be simulated; the torus appears similar to a long, narrow, straight glacial valley whose ends curve upward and eventually meet overhead to form a complete circle. The population density is similar to a dense suburb, with part of the ring dedicated to agriculture and part to housing

(Slide 42) Here are some other views. Whether we start colonizing the final frontier on giant rotating torus-shaped stations, or on terraformed colonies on the moon, Mars or Europa – we will bring our animal cousins with us.

(Slide 43) Conclusion:

  • While we don’t know all of the forms that zoos will take in the future
  • We do know that there will be lots of new types of zoos
  • We also know that the boundaries will blur between zoos and other institutions, creating fascinating new hybrid typologies
  • There are lots of exciting new frontiers to explore
  • As Zoo designers, we have the power to shape this new world and I’m really excited to keep moving forward

(Slides 44 & 45) Resources and Links

In Marius' Honor

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By Trisha Crowe A moment of silence for Marius the giraffe, and then…..What?

Boycott the Copenhagen Zoo?

Boycott ALL zoos?

I say let’s rally around something we can agree upon….that the mistreatment or exploitation of any species is not ok. The difficult thing is that how each person defines these terms is a highly personal decision. It is based on the innumerable messages we get as we grow up about what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair, and how we either feel or are taught about other living organisms.

As a self-professed animal lover I personally was stunned to see Marius’s story in the headlines. Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum of “animals are just like humans”, vs. “animals are here only to serve us”, I think we can agree that most of us do not want to see a healthy two year old giraffe killed and then publicly skinned and fed to lions. In our cultural views the Copenhagen Zoo’s handling of this issue has been an abomination, no doubt. But now what?

Based on reaction I have seen online, many people are ready to reject zoos altogether. I can understand this sentiment because there was a period in my life when I decided that I did not want to go to zoos anymore. Instead of feeling happy, uplifted or educated it seemed like I always left zoos feeling sad for the confined animals (from this point I will use “animals” loosely to represent all zoo and aquaria species).  I thought the enclosures were mostly too small and too sparse, there weren’t enough enrichment opportunities for animals to play or exhibit  natural curiosities, and on top of all of that some animals didn’t even get to leave the confines of their “holding areas” (I saw these as concrete cages) very often.

Flash forward; it took me almost 10 years to realize that the decision I had made to stay away from zoos did not do one bit of good for any animal anywhere. I realized that zoos are not going away. In the United States, zoos that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have higher attendance per year than all major sporting events combined.  And did I really want them to go away anyhow? No, what I wanted was for them to be better.  I decided that the right thing to do was not to ignore the problem, rather see what I could do to improve things. With this goal in mind I enrolled in a master’s program in landscape architecture. I did my thesis on zoo exhibit design with an eye on contributing to the design and construction of better enclosures and holding areas.

My revised attitude towards zoos has taken me a long time and has not always been easy; however since 2006 I have met with dozens of zoo and aquarium professionals who have given me a world of valuable time and a lot of insight. I have talked with keepers, horticulture staff, directors, COO’s, CFO’s, education staff, marketing staff, designers,   and development and membership staff.  While these people all have different educational backgrounds and varying views on animal “rights”, every single person I have met has had at least this in common – their love of wildlife and their desire to make a positive contribution to their organization and its occupants.

After having all of these conversations I realized that my past view of zoos was based on a very limited sample size and little real information. What challenges do zoos face? Why do they take the actions that they do? I really had no idea and unfortunately this made me mistakenly clump every negative act of every individual at every zoo into one category - bad.

What I have learned over the past ten years, however, is that zoo professionals are out there working hard to make positive changes. Within the past thirty years we have come a very long way. While in the 1970’s I had a lot of fun throwing marshmallows and peanuts to the elephants at my local zoo I am much happier to know that species diets have been well considered and are contributing to healthier animals. The 1980’s saw a widespread acceptance and execution of the use of more naturalistic enclosures. Enrichment opportunities – things like big blocks of ice with frozen treats inside or design elements which allow for an animal to exhibit their naturalistic behaviors – have grown into their own field of expertise. The psychological well-being of animals is now at the forefront of zoo keepers and administrator’s minds, so efforts have increased to address stress-based or “zootypic” behaviors such as animals pacing. But here’s the thing, change cannot happen overnight. And it cannot happen without passionate people letting their voices be heard.

I once felt helpless to do anything that would make any difference at all, but I eventually decided that my way to try and make a difference was to get my degree in landscape architecture and become a member of AZA. Now I am also trying to raise awareness that what zoos really need the most right now to continue their transformation into the kinds of institutions we want them to be is our support.

Regardless of your current impression of zoos they are a valuable resource and carry valuable messages to the public. They connect humans to wildlife in an up-close and personal way not otherwise possible. With increasingly dynamic education they foster participation in global environmental initiatives and help create a public concerned about the future of our planet, and wide-ranging conservation programs aim to preserve a vast variety of species in their natural areas. Zoos and aquariums are some of the only places left where a kid would rather look at what is in front of them than what is on their phone or computer screen.

So today I implore you, don’t dismiss all institutions. Become a member at an AZA-accredited zoo you have confidence in to show your support. Volunteer at your local zoo or aquarium. Write a letter when you are bothered by things you see. Get involved with a wildlife conservation initiative that you believe in. In the case of Marius the giraffe, write the Copenhagen Zoo an email voicing your concern.

Change cannot happen without us.

Trisha Crowe has been a team member in Pittsburgh, PA-area businesses focusing on design, planning and environmental issues for over 10 years. Trisha’s passion - and primary reason for completing her Master's of Landscape Architecture in 2010 - is zoo exhibit design.

DESIGNING ZOOS AT AZA 2013

I am happily on my way to the 2013 AZA National Conference in Kansas City tonight after a super crazy couple of weeks (and really months...).  I'll be speaking twice at the Conference this year.  Come see me talk about Guest Experience in the "Enrichment as Guest Experience" session on Wednesday at 2 pm,  followed by a brief presentation on the upcoming Lost Kingdom: Tigers at Tulsa Zoo co-presented with zoo director,  Terrie Correll,  at the "On the Boards" session on Thursday at 8 am.

Come see me,  applaud loudly,  and say hello afterward! 

Entertaining the Future, Part 2

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What the Future Holds for Entertainment in Zoos and Aquariums

By Dave Cooperstein

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I believe that there is a LOT of value in looking at examples of Show Productions outside the Zoo and Aquarium world, specifically Broadway and Vegas, because these attractions can teach us a lot about where we are headed…about where the future of Show Production lies.

In order to figure out what Tomorrow holds, we first need to look at Yesterday and Today.

Yesterday

When thinking about shows from 20 years ago (or longer), you’re really talking about what most people think of when they think of “Broadway”…a big budget musical, with a linear storyline, huge sets, elaborate costumes, maybe a few special f/x (but nothing outrageous), a big cast (usually), and lots of really great dialogue and/or songs. The focus was on the STORY and the CHARACTERS. These are the shows that Broadway was built on, and have stood 25_haylie-duff-hairspray-pictures02the test of time over the decades. Think:

  • “Hello Dolly!”
  • “Oklahoma”
  • “Cabaret”
  • “Phantom of the Opera”
  • “Les Miserables”
  • “Avenue Q”
  • “Hairspray”

To make a connection to the zoo and aquarium world, I would liken these types of “Yesterday” shows to early shows, where the focus was on the ANIMALS and their stories, at

  • SeaWorld – Shamu, Dolphin, Sea Lion/Otter, Pet’s Rule
  • Shedd Aquarium – Dolphin
  • Classic Bird Shows

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Today

In the past 5 to 10 years, and probably for the next 5 or 10, one of the big trends has been the incorporation of technology into theater. This is more than just a few special effects (like the turntable in "Les Mis", or the falling chandelier and floating candles in "Phantom"), but really the integration of technology into the entire production (music, props, sets, costumes, lights). It’s about Technology (Video Projection, Puppetry, Computer Lighting) infused into the storytelling. This is a trend that started a long time ago (more than 10 years ago) with shows like “The Lion King”, and has been taken to a new level with shows like those by Cirque du Soleil, which use technology as one of the main drivers of the performances (think “O”, which is done entirely over a giant stage pool).

Again, to bring this to the Zoo and Aquarium world, I would liken these to some of the more recent shows at:

  • SeaWorld – “Cirque de lar Mer”, “Blue Horizons," “Believe” 33_BlueHorizons_01
  • Busch Gardens – “Katonga”
  • Shedd Aquarium – “Dolphin Fantasea”
  • Georgia Aquarium – “Dolphin Tales”
  • Dolphinarium – “de Droom Wens”
  • Indianapolis Zoo – “Dolphin Adventure”
  • Animal Kingdom – “Festival of The Lion King”
  • Animal Kingdom – “Finding Nemo, the Musical”
  • Tokyo Disney Sea – “The Little Mermaid”

Tomorrow

So where is this headed? From all the trends that are happening, the future lies in integration of the two themes from ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Today’: Storyline and Technology.

At the very root of theater is the power of the story…that’s what brings the audience into the world of the characters, and compels them to stay involved with what’s happening on stage. That’s why shows of ‘yesterday’ have stood the test of time…the stories are just damn good. But it’s technology that leaves the iPhone/YouTube audiences of today slack-jawed. The marvel of seeing something happen on stage that you could never imagine, and that blows you out of your seat, is incredibly visceral. 38_Turtle-Talk-with-Crush

Shows that use technology to drive the storyline and make Personal Connections will transform the landscape of theater in the future. When technology becomes so integrated into the production that it almost begins to ‘disappear’, it’s the performers and their stories that become the highlighted elements. When that happens, the Story becomes the focus of the production, and personal connections begin to happen. Technology is totally integral to telling the story.

37_wallpaper_ka_1280x1024One of the best examples of this would be “Ka”, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas which manages to use technology in spectacular ways that actually advance the storyline, and allow the actors and director to tell a story that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to tell.

This is a place where the attractions industry is almost ahead of the curve when compared to theater:

  • Disney – “Turtle Talk with Crush”
  • San Diego Wild Animal Park - Robert the Zebra
  • Disney Fantasy – “Animation Magic” show @ Animator’s Palette Restaurant
  • Disney California Adventure – Mr. Potato Head @ “Toy Story Mania”
  • Sentosa Island – “Crane Dance”
  • SeaWorld – “Turtle Trek” & Retail Orange

39a_42_rws_CraneDance_2These are all attractions that use technology to tell the story in ways that create those Personal Connections with the guest. The audience has no choice but to be wrapped up in the storyline unfolding and becomes completely open to receiving the story or the message that is being delivered. And that’s how theater and show productions transcend expectations.

Read Part 1 of 'Entertaining the Future' here.

Dave Cooperstein is a Senior Creative Designer at PGAV Destinations, where he’s spent the past 15 years master planning zoos and aquariums, developing ride and show concepts for world-class theme parks, and designing for some of the most popular themed attractions around the country and the globe. He also writes for PGAV Destinations Blog, is an dad, architect, actor, storyteller, tech nerd, and card-carrying member of the International Jugglers’ Association.

The Future is Here: Tomorrow's Zoos Today

My second Bemusement post for Blooloop is up and live here.  Take a look and discover the growing trend that I feel will be one of the major innovations of zoos of the future.  Mysterious enough for you?  Here's a hint: I've brought it up several times on DZ before.  But this time, I used some really rad throwbacks as metaphors.  Check it!

Animal of the Month: Hippos

April showers bring May flowers, but here at DesigningZoos.com, April sea turtles bring May Nile hippos.  Naturally.

The latest fact sheet focuses on everybody's favorite awkward-on-land-but-fierce-in-the-water mammal: the Nile Hippopotamus.  Hippos live in groups of up to 30 animals and are extremely dangerous.  They spend their days soaking in the water, but stretch their legs on the riverbanks to graze in the evenings.  Because of this, DZ recommends you avoid that sunset walk along the banks of the Nile.  Learn other important facts by checking out the Animal of the Month entry, here.

Happy 5th Anniversary!

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Designingzoos.com Celebrates 5 Years of Exploring Zoological Design

Holy cats!  I almost dropped my chai tea latte when I realized my very first post was five years ago today!  So many things have changed...I've celebrated a full decade with PGAV Destinations, lived at 8 different addresses in 4 different cities, facilitated four successful master plans, participated in the  opening of three new exhibit projects with two on their way soon, added a new fur baby and a collection of zoo and aquarium mugs, presented at three conferences, developed a professional development course for PGAV, became a blogger for Blooloop, wrote two novels, learned to play guitar and got a divorce.  Phew!  That's a lotta livin!  And through it all, I managed to find time to dedicate to this little blog.

Large Logo RGB Anniversary

To celebrate our five years, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the 165 posts of Designingzoos.com (that's an average of almost 1 per week!)--in case you accidentally missed one or two!  And since it's our 5th anniversary, I thought I'd create some TOP 5 lists.

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts of All-Time

5. Multi-Disciplinary Integration...A Mouthful of Fun!

One of my personal favorites, this post explores a potential for the future of zoos--the merging of multiple tourism attractions into essentially a 'one stop shop' for edutainment.

4.  New York Aquarium Facelift?

Perhaps because its been a long-time coming, or perhaps because it's about a beloved institution, but this post has been a popular one with those seeking insight into the forever looming redesign.  After closing down due to extensive damage from Sandy, it is unclear to what extent the original plans will be instated.  However, with the Aquarium now partially reopened, they've promised to move forward with its sharks exhibit.

3.  Small and Sad: Dubai Zoo's Relocation on Hold Again

Similar to the NYA post, the constant promise and cancellation of this truly pathetic institution seems to be important to many readers.  Rumors are always flowing about this one, and the current rumor is the project is once again a go.

2.  The Next Zoo Design Revolution?

A highly controversial post generating wonderful discussion about the future of zoos.  I'd argue, five years later, novelty-based design is, in fact, now on the cusp of full implementation (see Glacier Run, conceived to keep animals and people surprised and engaged; and the myriad possibilities for integration of interaction, including but not limited to digital technologies).

1.  A Quick Lesson in Zoo Design History

The world must be full of history buffs! This post not only is the most viewed on DZ's site, but it has been viewed almost 3 times as much as the runner-up.  Must be the Google search 'Zoos as Jails.'

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Top 5 Editor's Picks

5. Why Master Plan?

Sometimes you just gotta lay down some knowledge.  This post is favorite of mine, because it explains to zoo-goers and professionals alike what that mysterious term 'master plan' means and how a successful one is created.  I truly believe institutions must spend time developing a master plan, and this post tells you exactly why.

4.  Video Games Get It...Do We?

Wow, this is an oldie--but a goodie!  A fun read with some insight into my life outside of zoo design (and perhaps a hint into why my marriage is now defunct).  Reveals how designers often look at the world--getting inspired in the most unexpected places.  Although none of the design thoughts have been implemented in any way yet, tourism destinations are, in fact, starting to  use game design theory  to create experiences.

3.  Zoo Exhibits in Three Acts

Storytelling is such a buzzword these days, but it truly is crucial to the development of a good exhibit experience.  Once again, here I drew from an unexpected inspiration to provide insight into the art of zoo design.  Also, I love Black Swan.

2.  Elephant Ethics

Not often do I broach a truly controversial subject on DZ, but the unwarranted uproar of animal activists got me all in a tizzy and I had to address it.  This post is a not-so-strongly worded look at why zoo design can be a true moral and / or ethical challenge.

1.  Inspiring Kids to Become Activists (AZA 2012, Day 3)

This is by far my favorite post.  Not because it's ground-breaking or because it's so well written, but because the subject was so inspiring to me.  I've always struggled with whether or not zoo experiences are truly making an impact on conservation, and through the development of this piece, I subsequently discovered an actual, plausible methodology to do so.  Now, I just need a client willing to explore it with me...

An elephant.  Happy February.

Top 5 Site Visit Posts

5. DZ's First Zoo Review: The Mote Aquarium

My first and last zoo review.  A failed experiment in site visits, this post is constructively critical with interesting tips and design insights, but perhaps a little too harsh. I do enjoy revisiting the post, though, as it reminds me how far we've come.  And, I might add, how Mote has improved as well.

4.  DZ Visits the Lemur Conservation Reserve

Visiting with lemurs in Florida had to make the list!  What a special place helping to ensure the survival of some of my favorite species.  The post includes some specific information regarding sizing for holding buildings that may come in handy.

3. Lincoln Park Zoo: Defining an Urban Zoo

One of my favorite posts as I had an epiphany about exactly how to review zoos.  Subsequent to this visit, I also realized zoos come in one of four varieties: Urban Zoo, Suburban Formal, Suburban Park-like, or Natural Park-like.  I like to categorize things, so this was a nice moment for me.

2.  Minnesota Zoo: Be True to Yourself

Another great zoo review based more on 'the moral of the story is' rather than a critique.  I also just really loved the Minnesota Zoo and have a real soft spot for zoos trying to succeed in a cold climate.  Can't we get visitors to come in winter??  I think MZ's approach is just brilliant.

1.  Underdogs: The Appeal of the Small Zoo

This might be a cheat since it covers multiple zoos and is one of my most recent posts, but I really do love small zoos.  I love their design challenges--small site, small budget--and their big hearts.  Not all small zoos are good zoos, but those doing it right, should really be congratulated.

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I sure do hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane.  Cheers to everyone who's ever read the blog, especially those loyalists, to everyone who's ever helped me out with a contributing post or information, and here's to 5 more years!

If you would like to be a contributing blogger to DesigningZoos.com, please contact me using the form below.  I'd like to keep a once weekly schedule, but often don't have the time, so if you have something you'd like to share regarding zoo and aquarium design, I'd love to hear from you!

[contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]

Animal of the Month: Sea Turtles

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Great news!  I've added a page to the site dedicated to the Animal of the Month fact sheets. This month's addition: Sea Turtles!

Sea-Turtle-HD-Wallpaper_sister from below

You might know them as prototypical surfer dudes, but sea turtles are waaaaaay more than that.  Did you know the largest sea turtles are the leatherbacks reaching upwards of 7' in length while the littlest ones, Kemp's Ridley, can be less than two feet!  Sea turtles are mostly solitary, and females looking to lay their eggs typically return to the beaches where they were hatched.  Wanna know more, like how big to a pool to make for 5 greens?  Check out the Sea Turtles fact sheet here.