Designs

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 Includes design plans and renderings--which I am sure are woefully out of date.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

Zoo Review: London and Chester Zoos

The spring of 2017 brought the first of two trips to Europe for me this year. My previous post shared my experiences at two of Poland’s best known zoos. This post explores two of England’s most beloved zoos, London and Chester Zoos. Having a few long-time friends from England, I’ve been lucky to spend quite a bit of time in this beautiful country. I’ve visited the south west region several times (visiting Paignton Zoo and Eden Project in the late 1990s), but as many times as I have fallen in love with London, I had never once visited the famed Zoological Society of London’s crown jewel, London Zoo. The experience of visiting the London Zoo and the Chester Zoo back-to-back allowed for some stark contrasts and very few, but very key, parallels indicating the strong trend of Euro zoo evolution toward immersive storytelling.

Let’s begin in London.

London Zoo is considered the world’s oldest zoo still in existence, having opened in 1828 in Regent’s Park in the heart of metropolitan London. It is an urban escape, and still boasts a wide-open park-like green where modern zoo-goers picnic alongside the zoo’s retro airstream BBQ food trailers.

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However, the London Zoo suffers from the constraints of its past.  As would be expected in such a historical city, older buildings are closely protected and preserved as historic monuments--and therefore untouchable for demolition or adaptive reuse (structures can be maintained and repainted, but only in the original palette of colors!). The world’s first aquarium still functions on grounds, and the infamous modernist penguin exhibit that is commonly held as the standard of how not to design an exhibit, remains empty and untouched. The Zoo is also terribly landlocked, and with its historic structures, its site is a patchwork of small pockets of land available for new attractions.

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But given these constraints (and perhaps because of these constraints), the Zoo can and should be considered one of the world’s best, with moments of experiential brilliance to 20170411_122824rival any. The relatively new Land of the Lions was a small budget (under $10,000,000 USD) renovation and expansion that weaves visitors through a fully immersive story of conflict between Asiatic lions and the ever-expanding population centers of India. Thematic architecture is used as lion barriers and blurs the lines of people and animal spaces. And, educational moments (probably the most clever part of the entire experience) are disguised as theming. A barber shop that teaches about lions’ manes. A seamstress kiosk that shows us the biological difference between Asiatic and other lions. It’s a place to explore and be surprised, and although the immersion is heavily skewed to a human dominated space, the lions’ habitat feels natural and appropriate.

As good as the Land of the Lions is, my favorite piece at the London Zoo was a thematic overlay to the historic bird house. The Victorian building, originally built as a reptile house in 1883, was renovated at some point to include multiple small bird flight cages as 20170411_124501well as a relatively small walk-through aviary. What seemed to be a more recent renovation implemented a fairly simple graphic overlay. The striking part of the renovation was the intentional decision to embrace the building’s heritage, instead of trying to hide it. The graphic overlay features Victorian styled artwork highlighting the beauty of birds, including ingenious classic silhouette art of several recognizable bird species, as well as the use of “wrought iron” rails and benches traditionally associated with this time period. I loved the intent and the impact of this small project, but I would’ve loved to see this story implemented on a larger scale—redesigning the cages themselves to be highly ornate bird cages we would’ve seen in this era. What a platform to introduce the concept of “where we’ve been, and where we’re going” in terms of zoos, as well as our society’s evolution in regards to our relationship with animals.

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In contrast to the urban, historical zoo experience of London Zoo, Chester Zoo is large, sprawling, and reflective of the English countryside in which it resides. Located about an hour outside of Manchester in the north of England, in a “posh” suburb with lots of football money (according to my Brit friends!), the Zoo is a relative newcomer, having opened in 1931. Despite its age (which relative to American zoos is quite old), the Zoo--unlike at London--is not restricted by historic facilities nor is it landlocked. Its oldest building still in use is the forgettable Aquarium from the 1950s.

The Zoo may be best known for its participation in several television series since the turn of the new century, but its most impressive exhibit experience is the new Islands at Chester Zoo project. Phase 3 of the project is expected to open in 2018, but the bulk of the exhibits focused on tropical Asia where the zoo is heavily involved in conservation, opened in 2015. The massive exhibit area expanded the zoo by 15 acres and includes tigers, orangutans, visayan pigs, birds, and much more anchored by the visually impressive river boat ride. Although I personally am lesIslands_architecture (2).jpgs than enthusiastic about boat rides to see animals (and I didn’t get to ride this one—out of season), the aesthetic of the river running through the exhibit experience was impressive and added a lot to the immersive setting. Although visitors begin their journey through Islands in a fishing village, and eat at a large Balinese (?) building, the bulk of the exhibit is landscape immersion, rather than cultural immersion, with limited props providing a hint of location specificity. The orang exhibit featured a research hut with jewel exhibits and educational features hidden expertly amongst theming.

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Chester Zoo was created with the intent to eliminate bars typical of Victorian zoos, like London Zoo. So, while many of the oldest exhibits definitely feel outdated, most are broadly sweeping with shared landscape views unimpeded by visual disruptions. The Zoo overall feels like a walk through the countryside or even a quiet park in a small town. The few wide promenades that remain, dotted with generic exhibits like storefronts, are tucked away and non-intrusive. This zoo, more than any other that I have visited in Europe, felt most like the American zoos that we have come to know and love.

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The thing that REALLY sets Chester Zoo apart, making it one of the world’s best zoos, is its incredibly strong message of conservation. The dedication to branding and message at this zoo is unlike any I’ve seen. A visual continuity through font and graphic style ties the 20170410_133122.jpg“Zoo Message” (as I call it) throughout the various exhibits, while still incorporating a sense of place within each exhibit through independently styled graphics and props. The Zoo Message is reinforced through small moments (like a pollinator garden along a viewing rail), eye-catching signage, videos, and even a book that can be purchased at the gift shop. What’s most important about Chester’s messaging style is that it is always approachable (visually and content-wise) and embraces family and fun with a touch of whimsy and humor.  A great lesson to be remembered, because, as we know, people come to zoos (and aquariums) for a fun time that makes them feel good about spending their precious resources (of time and money).

20170410_135602.jpgGet yourself to England to check out both of these incredible zoos!

Zoo Review: Wroclaw and Gdansk Zoos

Last month, I was able to spend a week in Europe focusing on zoo design. I attended a zoo design conference with many of the world’s leading designers and representatives from some of the most influential zoos from around the world. It was fascinating to see how differently everyone’s perspectives were, where their priorities lay, and what kind of risks they were willing to take.  For more on the conference itself, keep any eye out for my upcoming Blooloop post summarizing my key conference take-aways. 20170404_153329

After the conference, my colleague from PGAV and I were able to visit a handful of zoos, presenting a range of experiential designs and husbandry styles. As a strategist, I visit zoos with an eye to understanding their particular brand and differentiators, instead of focusing so much on details. In my experience, every zoo has good habitats and those that need attention. It is the constant challenge for any zoo—understanding where and when to spend their limited capital budget.

In this post, I will present to you the two zoos we visited in Poland.

Zoo Wroclaw (pronounced something like “Vrot-zwoff,” although I still just mumble my way through it!) is considered to be the best zoo in Poland. It’s an historic zoo with historic structures in a fairly urban setting, but has nice site characteristics, such as naturally forested areas.

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Overall, this zoo is fairly representative of an average zoo found throughout Europe. It has its charms and its challenges with the reuse of historic elements, like the original zoo restaurant (turned into a reptile house) and the zoo’s first structure, a castle-like brick enclave that originally housed bears (turned into unconventional bird enclosures).

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The layout is confusing and a reflection of its long history, and the intentionality of food service and retail could be improved.

The biggest lesson of this zoo is, however, the fact that many European zoos have not yet moved beyond their fascination with big A architecture—architecture for architecture’s sake, rather than serving a purpose for storytelling or supporting animal welfare.

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The Afrykarium, opened in 2015 and designed by local architect arc2, is a massive indoor Africa aquarium experience located at the heart of the zoo. Its expansive, monolithic black surface can be seen from most places in the zoo—and it’s not a good thing. It is not human scale; it does not feel inviting; it does not give a clue to what is held inside; it is in complete contradiction to the character of the zoo.

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Once inside, it is clearly apparent that the architects had never created an animal habitat before. Although the habitats are quite spacious and in some instances, quite complex, the ability to recreate a natural habitat indoors is an art that takes many years of practice. This was very much an amateur project, and at $60 million, an unfortunate first attempt for the Zoo.

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Gdansk Zoo, located in a city park just off the coast, is a humble zoo that truly benefits from its natural surroundings. The habitats are (mostly) large and naturalistic, many filled with trees and vegetation.

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More than just the aesthetic benefits, the Zoo utilizes the site, located at the base of a low mountain range, to tap into a natural supply of fresh water for the habitats. Although none of the exhibits contain underwater viewing, the water is regularly tested to meet quality standards, and is filtered naturally through a series of enhanced wetlands before moving into the city’s sewer system.

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The habitat barriers throughout exemplify the willingness to take risks that is characteristic of European zoos. Many exhibits here appear to have only hot wire as a barrier, and those with actual barriers, tend to be lower or less robust than what we would do here in the US. There are even places where hot wire is located to impede GUESTS rather than to stop ANIMALS. For example, the tiger caging is surrounded by hot wire on the guest side, with a hand rail along the guest path. A sign warns guests to not touch the hot wire, and also to not get close to the tiger enclosure.

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However, this zoo has a comfortable, park-like feel that welcomes guests to take their time and stroll. This is a very traditional approach to zoo design which generally is less appealing to me, but given the natural beauty of the site, the use of natural materials and vegetation within habitats, and the size of most of the enclosures, this zoo has a certain familiar, comfortable charm.

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WCS: A Brand Experience

Beautifully themed Africa zone in Bronx Zoo About 20 years ago, the zoological society that oversaw the system of zoological facilities in and around the New York metropolitan area underwent a brand facelift.  They became the Wildlife Conservation Society—a deep integration of the five metro facilities with the conservation organization that had existed since the late 19th century.  And, as I’m sure they would argue, it was much deeper than simply brand: it was a laser sharp focus on mission.  Specifically, the mission of conservation.

The discussion of zoos as conservation organizations is admittedly a quagmire: zoos and aquariums are no doubt contributing to the conservation of species.  The degree to which they are contributing depends on the individual institution, and the public perception of them as conservation institutions is probably as convoluted.  But this post is not about zoos as conservation organizations.  This is about conveying that message to your public.  This post really is essentially about brand.

The iconic theater where gorillas are dramatically revealed, post-movie, at Congo in the Bronx Zoo.

The reveal.

Perfect immersion in 'natural' Congo landscape at Bronx Zoo

Last year, I had the pleasure of spending a late summer weekend with a colleague exploring three of the WCS facilities: Central Park Zoo, Bronx Zoo, and New York Aquarium.  Each are as unique from each other as snowflakes: Central Park Zoo is a delightful historic gem tucked into a city park where wealthy urbanites can escape their apartments for an hour with their children.  The Bronx Zoo is a massive, day-long excursion winding through mature forest—as much a nature experience as a zoo.  The New York Aquarium, still recovering from storm Sandy, is a small to medium sized aquarium on par with any found in a medium-sized city—think Landry’s, SEA LIFE, Ripley’s.

However, each clearly conveyed the WCS message: We are conservation.

Non-animal theater show with puppets at Bronx Zoo

The sea lion show at the Aquarium. The Madagascar (and of course the Congo) exhibit at Bronx.  The Rainforest exhibit at Central Park.  Each clearly stated and restated the conservation issue, the solution, and how WCS is involved.  This is done through graphics, video, docents, and message-driven immersive storyline.  The exhibits are beautiful.  Each thoughtful, innovative, and clearly immersive.  Each exhibit created with upmost care by a talented team of designers who obviously has the formula down to a science.  These places are conservation.  You cannot miss it.

Sea lion show at still recovering New York Aquarium

Amazing snow leopard (and exhibit) at Central Park Zoo

This prototype of zoo as conservation organization is a clear success story and model for other zoos as we continue to showcase the amazing work zoos and aquariums do every day—and too often behind the scenes.  As we continue to evolve this model, a particular emphasis should be focused on further blending conservation education and fun.  While WCS is successfully integrating conservation into the experience, it does, at times, feel a bit heavy-handed—overwhelming guests with bad news and bleak outlooks for the future.  People come to our institutions for wholesome family fun, and the integral blend of pure joy, amazement, and conservation education will be the foundation of successful zoos and aquariums of the future.

Spent some time with this guy at Bronx Zoo

Then saw this horrifying display next to his window illustrating the illegal bird smuggling trade.

Enjoyed watching the tigers in their strikingly convincing naturalistic exhibit at Bronx Zoo.

Explored this fun display that just screamed to be interacted with.

Wha-wha-what???

Sweet little tank with a nice balance of conservation message and animal exhibit at New York Aquarium.

Zoo Shows: Conveying a Conservation Message to the Masses

by Jon Coe Greetings zoo friends and thoughtful critics!

If you have fifteen minutes have a look at the video below.  This is the complete elephant show from Bali Safari & Marine Park, and my long time friends and client, Taman Safari Indonesia. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cNml7-KUTQ] I designed the elephant show venue, including the wrap around water feature with underwater elephant viewing. But the important thing is how this show has evolved from a somewhat circus-like show demonstrating human control over elephants to a conservation melodrama where elephants are characters in the play, often performing well out of sight of trainers.

The drama starts from the expected view of forest cutters and loggers as “bad guys” (dressed in black as in traditional Asian drama) harassing, shooting, “wounding” and  driving off elephant “victims”. But in the next scene the elephants become “bad guys” destroying village crops and endangering local people. Finally elephants, under proper Forestry Department management, become heroes and win local support.

To me these abrupt and startling changes of perspective are effectively used to suggest the real complexity of wildlife conservation. The show mentions Taman Safari’s long-term support of the Way Kambas National Park elephant sanctuary they developed in Sumatra with the Forestry Department. But it is careful not to propose unrealistic “quick fixes” or blame either villagers or elephants. It presents, albeit in cartoon style, the realistic certainty that hard choices and compromises are required to create sustaining populations of farmers and elephants. The final message is something like “We don’t know the answer, but we know we will find the answer by working together”. Who can argue with that?

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On a practical level, I’m not a supporter of full contact elephant management or coercive training methods. But in this case, however training is done (and I don’t know how it was done) a number of elephants individually and collectively carry out long sequences of learned behaviours far from trainers. And while some appear to be “going through the motions”, others are clearly having fun. Most trainers would not encourage training elephants to chase people, even on stage. But the young elephants do seem to enjoy this part...wonder why!

From a behavioural enrichment perspective, the elephants have a wide range of physical activities including short bursts of running and swimming in a highly varied pace, usually with conspecifics. While the routine isn’t varied, neither is the exercise routine of most human athletes and performers, who nevertheless seem to find them enriching.

Most guests wouldn’t recognize the high levels of training skill and innovation required to produce such a show. They, especially high numbers of children, simply want to be entertained in enjoyable and understandable ways. In my experience such shows are the best way to connect with large audiences in mass tourism settings, where individualistic immersion on simulations of isolated jungle trails fail. In my opinion, major zoos can and should have both to reach their highly varied audiences most effectively and create that moment of “positive arousal”, as Terry Maple refers to it--that bonding moment of empathy upon which all effective education is based.

Jon Coe is a world-renowned zoo designer with over one hundred and sixty planning and design projects for over eighty-two zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, theme parks and national parks in thirteen nations.  The goal of his work is to collaborate in the creation of enriching and sustainable environments for people, plants and animals.

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

ZooLex Gallery Additions: BEEHIVE

zoolexOur friends over at ZooLex.org have invited DesigningZoos to partner with them to provide a place for readers to share their experiences and commentary on the new exhibit gallery additions.  Every month, we'll post links to the new Zoolex exhibits here, and encourage discussion amongst readers in the comments section. This Month: Beehive at Tiergarten Schonbrunn

beehive1

"Beehive is an animal exhibit at the Vienna Zoo that challenges many stereotypes about zoo animals. The bees are free ranging, but not wild. They are domesticated, but not tame. They are scary for many people, but not dangerous. They are hardly noticed by most, but heavily needed by all. Beehive is a colourful and playful stage for their show."

Have you been to this exhibit?  What do you think of it?  Let us know, below!

 

The Future of Zoos: Blurring The Boundaries

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By Eileen Hill

Click the link below to see Eileen’s slide show, along with her notes per slide.

Future of zoos_hill_with_notes_compressed_20140305

(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 even have zoos 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_

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

The Whats, Whys and Hows of Guest Experience, Part 2

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The following is an adaptation of a presentation I gave in September 2013 at the AZA National Conference as part of the session ‘Enrichment as Guest Experience.’  This is part two of two.  Check out Part 1 here. What is experience? 

Microsoft PowerPoint - AZA Presentation.pptx

Put quite simply, it’s everything.  Literally and figuratively.

Experience at zoos and aquariums is everything from the moment your guest turns onto your property in their car.  It’s every moment, every interaction with staff or animals, every view.

All of these moments combine and culminate to create an ultimately positive or negative association with your institution.

Experience is also quite possibly the most important aspect of what you do.

hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs summarizes the pattern of human motivations from the most basic to the sublime.  A parallel can be made to your guests’ needs.  Meaning, before we can reach people on a transformational level, we must satisfy their lesser needs beginning with the desire first to be comfortable and safe, moving through to simply having a good time, onto learning something, which sparks something deeper (the ‘I wanna help’ moment), and ultimately providing them the inspiration to take action.

The key here is to remember that your guests do not come through the door ready to be transformed.  We must provide a great guest experience starting with the most basic needs guiding them to transformation.

Why do we care?

Zoo Bumper Sticker

This one’s simple.  The ultimate goal of every visit is to create or facilitate transformational experiences.  We do this through engagement, empathy and empowerment.  We aim to create Activists—both for conservation and wildlife, but also for your institution itself.  Your guests are your best marketing tool and PR managers—when they’re on your side.

How do we optimize experience to achieve our goals?

One major method is through the use of storytelling.  Yes, it’s a buzzword right now, but for good reason: it works.  Human beings have been using storytelling as a means to convey information for thousands of years.  Why not use what works?  And it’s universal, appealing to every age group, ethnicity and educational background on the planet.

Microsoft PowerPoint - AZA Presentation.pptx

But stories are no longer passive or 2D experiences.  Our lives are dominated by choice and interactivity.  We live in an instant gratification society. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every experience should incorporate digital media.  It simply means people today like to display some control over their environment, and the more choice we can give them, the more engaged our guests will become.

interactive_film

Storytelling in zoos primarily occurs through three methods:

1. Environment:  Sensorial cues begin to tell a story by creating a setting

Humans are highly visual, and in fact, as state before, we’re highly sensorial—and the connection with the senses, the more powerful memories may be.  Creating places that stimulate the senses triggers other memories and sparks the imagination.

antarctica

Environment can also contribute to story with the use of the unexpected. Our minds work by piecing information together by making assumptions based on past experiences.  When something doesn’t look or feel as we expected, our minds go into overtime trying to reconcile the past experience with the current.  This leads to a simple truth: surprise gets our attention.

2. People: Direct and effective communication of story

keeper and kid

Humans are social animals.  We yearn to connect with others.  We want to find commonalities, to empathize. So it’s no surprise that storytelling is most effectively achieved by people connecting with people.  In fact, it’s been shown in study after study that guests learn more and are more interested in the animals at zoos after interacting with docents and keepers.

3. Animals: The heart of the story

The best animal stories are those told by the animals themselves.  Similar to our desire to connect socially with other humans, we also want to connect with animals.  And if you examine how we connect, you’ll see it’s often with our senses—perhaps most importantly, through the sense of touch.

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One of the most memorable, most affecting guest experiences is being able to physically touch animals.  But, if we cannot touch, we want to be as close to the animal as possible.  We want to interact with the animal, we want to get a reaction from the animal.  We want to feel as if we’ve been noticed and seen—like we’ve engaged directly—with the animal.  Just like how we connect with people.

kid joy butterfly

And again, just like how we connect with each other, we’re seeking to find similarities with animals; looking for comparisons between how we look and behave.  The stories we tell about animals are often most engaging when we’re building empathy through understanding—by looking for ways that they’re ‘just like me!’

These three elements of storytelling are also major aspects of Enrichment.  Environment is enrichment through provision of choice, change in habitat, toys, etc.  People deliver the enrichment whether through keepers or even special guest experiences.  And, of course, the Animals are the recipients of the enrichment.

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Getting creative about how we enrich the animals in captivity while also keeping the guest experience top of mine will only continue to improve the guest experience and ability of zoos and aquariums to achieve their missions.

The Greening of Zoos

California Academy of Sciences from The GuardianA few years back, the PGAV Zoo Design Specialty Development Team worked through a group exercise examining the state of 'greeness' in zoos and aquariums.  At that time, these facilities seemed to be participating in green practices in a generally superficial manner.  Today, things are turning around, environmental responsibility is becoming a top priority, and some institutions are truly becoming green leaders--not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. In my most recent Blooloop.com post, I examine the state of green in zoos and aquariums today.  Check it out here.

Summer Exhibit Happenings

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With longer days, kids off school, and weather that just begs for folks to roam outdoors, summertime is the busy season for the vast majority of zoos.  Because of that, many zoos target late spring early summer for exhibit openings, hoping to further entice veteran zoo-goers and first-time visitors alike.  Unlike recent years, June 2013 seems to have been an especially noteworthy month with a handful of new exhibit openings and a major ground-breaking. Seattle Aquarium's Harbor Seals:  The $6.5 million exhibit opened with a deeper pool and nose-to-nose viewing.

Oregon Zoo's Elephant Lands: The $53 million exhibit broke ground in June, and features 3.6 acres for the elephants with a 36,000 square foot barn.  Additional focus on enrichment with unique feeding stations, mud wallows and plenty of water access.

From Oregon Zoo

Shedd Aquarium's At Home on the Great Lakes: With a local focus, the new exhibit (part of the existing Waters of the World) brings attention to native wildlife and issues they face.  Features a Sturgeon touch tank.

Como Park Zoo's Gorilla ForestThe $11 million exhibit doubles the outdoor habitat for the Zoo's 7 gorillas to 10,000 square feet.  The yard is fully enclosed in mesh and features lots of nose-to-nose viewing opportunities.

San Diego Zoo's Conrad Preby's Australian OutbackThe $7.4 million exhibit features a new facility for koala husbandry and viewing along with a variety of other Australian species.

San Diego Zoo's Conrad Preby's Africa Rocks: Officially announced in June, the Africa Rocks exhibit will feature three distinct habitat types housing over 50 species of small animals.  The Zoo is working to raise a total of $30 million.

New England Aquarium's Giant Ocean TankAfter $17 million in renovations, the 200,000 gallon tank features over 65 new pieces of acrylic to increase viewing of the new artificial Caribbean reef.

From News & Record / Josephy Rodriguez

Greensboro Science Center's SciQuariumThe first inland aquarium in the state, the Science Center continues to redefine our notion of science-based experience with the opening of the $32 million, 22,000 square foot facility.

National Aquarium's Blacktip Reef: Officially opening in early July, the 260,000 gallon Caribbean reef exhibit will eventually be home to sharks in addition to its 75 other species.

 

Tales of Trails

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By Trisha Crowe Until recently, the use of the word “trails” at zoos typically referred to pathways that allowed visitors to travel throughout a zoo to look at species in (relatively) small enclosures. Now through innovative design, some animals are able to access enclosed trail systems which are opening up a whole new world for them.  The trails afford them the opportunity to explore areas that were previously inaccessible from their smaller, standard exhibits.

appalachian_trail1Since this type of exhibit has only been implemented over the past few years, research regarding the impacts on the animal’s physical and psychological well-being is only in the early stages. Proponents of the animal trails have high expectations surrounding the benefits to both the animals and to the visitor experience. For one thing, many animals in the wild spend time in trees or above the ground. Overhead trails allow animals to be up higher than their human counterparts, which is believed to relieve stress in some species. These animals are also experiencing added stimulation from having a new perspective and new spaces to explore. While habitat areas in traditional exhibits may grow “stale”, allowing the rotation of species through the same trail system can also provide sensory enrichment and opportunities for animals to get more exercise, From abclocal.go.comthus helping to avoid lethargy and stereotypic behaviors. For larger land mammals such as elephants, giraffes and hoofed mammals the trails provide more area to roam, which more closely resembles their natural habitat and allows for the expression of more “normal” behaviors.

These exhibit types also allow for more unique visitor experiences; from seeing the same animals in different places on the trail throughout the day to seeing entirely different species in the same area on different days.

Similar design ideas are taking off in a number of institutions; however the Philadelphia Zoo is in the midst of a ground-breaking effort to create an enclosed animal trail system that encompasses the whole zoo. Their plan has been created byFrom popularmechanics.com CLR Design in Philadelphia along with renowned zoo designer Jon Coe. The following timeline outlines the Philadelphia Zoo’s trail-system plans:

2013. Treetop Trail will be extended down a main path to the primate reserve, intersecting a new children’s zoo and education center opening in the spring. A climbing tower will allow visitors to see the primates on the trail system at eye level.

2014. Another new trail will link the orangutan trail with the big-cat areas and later with a gorilla exhibit.

2015. A pilot trail for large land animals will connect the existing African Plains exhibits; allowing zebras, rhino, giraffe, hippos and antelope to rotate through one another’s exhibits.

2016. A new exhibit for hoofed animals that use the land trail system will open.

From whmyers.comListed below are other examples of trail-type exhibits that have either already opened or are under construction.

Cleveland. Elephant crossing at Cleveland Zoo is spread over five acres of lightly wooded grasslands, African Elephant Crossing. It features two large yards for roaming, ponds for swimming, expanded sleeping quarters, and a heated outdoor range.

Denver. Toyota Elephant Passage is a 10-acre area with six connected habitats and 100 animal-transfer gates managed in a central control center.  The 10 acres of varied terrain and 2 miles of interconnected trails, Toyota Elephant Passage “not only showcases Southeast Asia’s wildlife (including Asian elephants, one-horned rhinoceros, Malayan tapir, the fishing cat, clouded leopard and the Asian small-claws otters) but tells the stories of people and places in tropical Asia.”

Jacksonville. The Range of the Jaguar at Jacksonville Zoo is a 4.5-acre exhibit that features over 80 species of mammal, reptiles, fish, and birds representing the Central and South American habitat of the jaguar.

National Zoo elephant trail. From wildexplorer.orgLouisville. The Islands Exhibit features endangered animals that are rotated through four habitats connected by transfer aisles to allow safe passage of species.

Louisville. Polar Bear Crossing at Glacier Run is just part of the large Glacier exhibit for the bears where they can also play in the 80,000 gallon pool, dive off rocks,and  explore dig pits.  The indoor Bear Alley exhibit in the center of town offers fun diversions for bears and visitors.

Washington, D.C. The National Zoo’s Orangutan Transport System, or “O” Line, allows orangutans to swing from or walk across plastic-coated steel cables among eight 50-foot towers placed between two buildings, a distance of 490 feet.9

Washington, D.C. Elephant Trail at The National Zoo aims to provide all elephants with indoor-outdoor access year round. The Elephant Community Center and Elephant Barn contain nine indoor living areas, or “suites.” The outdoor component of Elephant Trails contains seven enclosures, including four exhibit yards, two paddocks, and an Elephant Trek. Elephant Trails spans 8,943 square meters total. The indoor exhibit is 1,232 square meters and the outdoor exhibit is 7,711 square meters.10

National Zoo's O-Line

Upcoming at Jacksonville Zoo...Land of the Tiger. Tigers will make their return to the Jacksonville Zoo in a new exhibit set to open in March of 2014. The exhibit will also include other Asian animals such as the critically endangered Viscayna warty pig and babirusa pig, Asian small-clawed otters and wrinkled and wreathed hornbills. The plan is to that there will be “seven new structures will be built for animal housing, guest viewing and event space.”11

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.

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.

SeaWorld's Take on Penguins

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Over Memorial Day weekend, SeaWorld Orlando opened their biggest expansion to date, and it was all dedicated to our favorite aquatic flyer, the Penguin. 'Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin' incorporates a whimsical family ride with a deeply immersive animal exhibit. From Tampa Bay Times

We're not here to discuss the ride; we are here to celebrate the exhibit.  The space is chilled to the comfort of the birds at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  Approximately 250 birds, including gentoo, rockhopper, adelie and king, occupy 6,125 square feet including a 170,000 gallon, 20' deep (amaze-balls!) pool.

From Tampa Bay Times

The birds are treated to 20,000 lbs of snow a day blown in for their enrichment, comfort, and for experiential authenticity for the guests.  The lighting is also controlled to mimic the South Pole.

While my investigation is certainly not comprehensive, I believe this exhibit may be the largest penguin exhibit in the US, if not the world.  And, the pool may also be the deepest.  Certainly, the deepest I've seen, and it makes for some very exciting animal viewing.

From Tampa Bay Times

The 4-acre project also includes a themed restaurant, offering up a selection of food inspired by the countries that originally explored Antarctica, as well as a retail shop.

From Tampa Bay Times

The rockwork is pretty stunning, including some beautiful penguin bas relief.   A keen eye will spot the massive penguin hidden in the snowy rocks looming overhead...

From Theme Park Insider

For closer looks at the entire area, take a look at the following videos:

Penguins on Exhibit (3:30)

Theming and Culinary

Ride

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.

Underdogs: The Appeal of the Small Zoo

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I’ve always been partial to the underdog.  Those whose beliefs and perseverance outweigh the skeptics' might by shear doggedness and tenacity.  Those tirelessly working to do right despite just scraping by. I’m one of those people who gladly buys the opening band’s CD despite not having anything on which to play it.  I always choose a local restaurant over a chain.  My March Madness bracket is upset city, and I never liked that Michael Jordan.

The same is true for zoos and aquariums.  Don’t get me wrong…I love the big guys and the top-notch experiences they offer.  Their excellence in care, leadership in conservation and education, and ability to fill a day with shows, thematic exhibits and fun activity; the star species and large, diverse collections they maintain.

by Patrick Owsley

by Patrick Owsley

But there’s just something about the little guys.  The ones caring for an oftentimes misfit collection of domestic goats, non-releasable hawks, three-strikes bears, confiscated leopards and donated snakes.  Those whose skeleton staff, supported by an army of volunteers, work 18 hour days and happily offer up their own home as an impromptu nursery or quarantine area.  Those zoos and aquariums whose budgets for capital improvements over the next 15 years barely equal the cost of a single exhibit at a world-renowned counterpart.  The little guys.  The underdogs.

So what constitutes an underdog zoo or aquarium?  It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, but on which haven’t truly come to a conclusion.  There’s something about its physical size—probably less than 35 acres; something to do with its attendance—maybe less than 100,000 annually; gotta’ include its capital expenditures, its market reach, its operating costs, its staff size and its collection size.  But, really, there’s always going to be exceptions.  What it comes down to is the feel.  Just good ole’ fashioned, gut feeling.  Like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart famously said, “I shall not today attempt to further define {it}…But I know it when I see it.”

Binder Park Zoo (from Southwest Michigan Dining)

Binder Park Zoo (from Southwest Michigan Dining)

My love affair with the little guys probably began with my first real zoo job.  I spent an undergrad summer bumbling through the construction of a Colobus monkey exhibit, part of the huge Africa expansion at the Binder Park Zoo.   Flummoxed by construction documents my zoology classes hadn’t prepared me for, I found myself wandering the existing zoo grounds during lunches or after quitting time.  I remember most the intimacy of visiting prairie dogs, digging through their dirt pile exhibit, interacting with the talking ravens, housed in a welded wire mesh aviary, and the simple beauty of exhibits carefully located between the towering old growth trees of the Michigan zoo’s deciduous forest.  Even with the expansion, this zoo’s character is that of a walk in the woods; the African hoofstock and giraffes wandering the plains of a meadow that just happened to be there.

Similarly, the Central Florida Zoo, located just outside theme park mecca Orlando, takes advantage of its site to create more of an enhanced nature walk than the in-your-face, wholly man-made sensibility of a larger zoo.  Rusticity is embraced and forgiven in a setting where you might expect to spot a free-ranging and truly wild alligator or Florida panther lurking in the swampy woods of the zoo grounds.  This is a place where you know—from the moment you pull into the vehicular approach surrounded by the tunnel of live oaks dripping in Spanish moss-- to slow down, to take your time.  You can see it all and do it all.  There’s simply no rush.

Boardwalk and exhibits at CFZ

Boardwalk and exhibits at CFZ

Despite the Central Florida Zoo’s lack of both pathway hierarchy and organization based on distinctly defined regions (which do in fact seem to be defining characteristics of a small zoo), you won’t get lost.  And so what if you pass by the porcupine exhibit two or three times in order to see the whole zoo.  He’s sleeping conveniently in a location where you can get a good, close look at him.  From the gravel parking lot and train ride outside the zoo gates to the elaborate spray pad surrounded by shaded seating, this zoo is quaint, and filled with an unmistakable sense of community.  In this region, so ostentatiously built for tourism, this little zoo provides an escape to normalcy and a place for residents (and tourists alike) to enjoy a quiet afternoon in nature with family.

Good sleeping spot, my friend.

Good sleeping spot, my friend.

Perhaps the most meaningful zoo design experience I’ve had is with the Big Bear Alpine Zoo.  PGAV’s partnership with the struggling Moonridge Zoo (as it is formerly known) began way back in 2005 when we interviewed in the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains in southern California.  The existing zoo, which was the result of many years of dedicated work rehabbing the regions’ animals devastated by negative human interactions, is located on 2 acres in the parking lot of a local ski resort.  The animals living here are non-releasable rehabs and confiscations, like Yoda, a Sawet owl, whose wing was amputated after being hit by a car.  The animals are well-cared for, but the physical Zoo itself does not reflect the level of care and the conservation / education significance of the facility.  Exhibits are chainlink and welded wire, crammed one after the other into its two acres.

Yoda from Big Bear Alpine Zoo

Yoda from Big Bear Alpine Zoo

We were hired to create a master plan and eventually to the design a wholly new zoo on a larger site, but still on a tight budget.  And over the years, we’ve watched as the community support for the project has grown--despite bumps in the road.  One day, the new zoo will be complete; the animals will have spacious new homes, the visitors will have an enriching experience, and I’ll be absolutely humbled to have been a small part of making a difference for such a worthwhile institution.

Kit foxes released after care at Big Bear Alpine Zoo from BBAZ

Kit foxes released after care at Big Bear Alpine Zoo from BBAZ

So, for me, the appeal of small zoos and aquariums stems from the fact that it seems, as designers, we can affect change the most at these institutions.  These are facilities which rarely have capital for major physical changes.  Places with big visions, but limited resources.  These facilities need master plans not only for fundraising and planning purposes, but for the team building and strategizing they provide—for clarity of vision.  They need experienced consultants that can offer creative and low-cost solutions to design issues; provide guidance on guest experience.  Oftentimes, simple changes drastically affect the public perception of a place —and sometimes just the act of planning itself illustrates such commitment and resolve to achieve more that the zoo is elevated in the public’s eye.  Many of today’s powerhouses began as just ‘a small zoo,’ but with the support of the community, were able to grow slowly and steadily over the years.

Do not overlook the little guys.  Especially the little guys who’ve made the extra effort to become accredited by the AZA (or EAZA, IMATA, or AMMPA).  This is an amazing feat for an institution of any size.  And as we know, underdogs can impact the world just as mightily as the conventional leaders.  We just need to give them a chance.

Lincoln Park Zoo: Defining an Urban Zoo

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Character and ambience are often noticed subconsciously, defining the feeling of a place; contributing to the brand.  Most people recognize historical charm or modernist style, and may understand their predilection for a certain design aesthetic.  Oftentimes, these predilections are borne from a person’s associations with comfort and happiness, as in a childhood home or the neighborhood where two people met and fell in love. Main EntryThe same associations can be true in zoos.  Guests come to the zoo with a whole host of preconceived notions, from their ability to correctly identify a brown bear from a sun bear to their favorite hamburger toppings.  This means that, just like the many styles of residential homes, zoos also have a variety of styles--endearing themselves to some visitors, while disaffecting others.

Because zoos cannot be all things to all people, they must clearly define themselves.  And, as often is the case in architecture, taking a cue from their context (i.e. an urban zoo just north of downtown Chicago) may prove to be a well-received approach (although just as in architecture, juxtaposition from context may also be a successful strategy, i.e. the wilds of nature in the middle of New York City).

Lincoln Park Zoo is an example of using context as a guide for physical planning and aesthetic, and, in so doing, is the prototypical Urban Zoo.

Opened in 1868, Lincoln Park Zoo is one of America’s oldest, and its long history is reflected in its physical plan.  Nestled inside Lincoln Park, the zoo’s roots trace back to the addition of a pair of swans to a park pond, quickly followed by the acquisition of a bear.  As such, the zoo is a reflection of the 19th century urban park in which it was derived with grand walkways, formal gardens and ornate buildings.

This was (and still is) a place to escape the congestion and grit of early city life.  A place to recreate with the family, to socialize with friends.  A place to take time, to stroll slowly, to enjoy the softness of a green lawn under bare feet.  This was an urban park that just happened to have animals.

Today, the Zoo is more than simply a ‘park with animals’.  And although the historic aspects have been maintained out of respect (and out of requirement--monetarily and preservation-wise), the Zoo has moved squarely into the 21st century.  The Regenstein Center for African Apes is highly regarded around the country as a leading facility for gorillas and chimps in captivity, both in the physical design as well as the husbandry practices.

The Regenstein African Journey utilizes compelling visual storytelling and theming to transport Chicagoans to jungles and savannas in a rich indoor and outdoor experience.  Portions of the Small Mammal House are fully immersive and spectacular, and the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, including the indoor Treetop Canopy Climbing Adventure, is an inventive and playful walk through the woods, pairing physical play with small animal exhibits.

Alas, the historical nature of the Zoo does create challenges.  Despite renovations, many of the original indoor exhibits (termed ‘houses’ as in Lion House, Bird House, etc.) leave much to be desired.  The Kovler Lion House is especially depressing, with cage after small cage housing medium to large cats, including the namesake.  Although the indoor stalls do connect to outdoor exhibits, the negative perception from the indoor visual (and smell of years of stale cat urine) ruins any chance of a positive impression.  Similar in layout, but far less offensive, are the Bird and Primate Houses in which cages have been updated and refurnished and theatrical lighting added to soften the original historic nature.  The Zoo did cleverly reuse an old animal exhibit building, however, converting from its original use into a centrally located restaurant.

Additionally, the urban-ness of the Zoo is in itself limiting. Ironically, getting to the Zoo is somewhat challenging with $20 parking and no convenient L stop. The towering skyscrapers will never be hidden allowing a total escape into the wild. The 35-acre site is landlocked, and without acquisition from the neighboring park, will always fight for space with itself.  The historic buildings preclude demolition, and, in fact, the site itself may have historic preservation issues for future demolition, as has been the case in other zoos with bear pits and allees.

But the in the end, these limitations are what make Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo.  The history, the urban park-like setting, the city looming just outside the gates.  City-dwellers find solace in the escape, tourists appreciate the zoo for being apropos.  For its character, its ambience.  For being…so Chicago.

Balancing Education and Entertainment in Zoo Design

By Cray Shellenbarger Zoo design is as difficult a task as any.  We attempt to set criteria based upon needs of animals, visitors, zoo staff and zoo administrators.  One of the biggest issues I see is the balance between education and entertainment.  Zoos generally advertise themselves as promoting education and conservation, but as designers we cannot forget that a large number of attendees come to be entertained.   It is the job of the design team to educate the public about conservation and the individual animals in a variety of creative ways.  Oftentimes, it is better to be subtle with our techniques so that patrons do not feel that they are being bombarded with information.   I believe that by creating more immersive, interactive and technologically advanced exhibits we can achieve the goal of educating the public, and perhaps pick up a few added benefits along the way.

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By creating an immersive, realistic environment for both the animal and the guests, the exhibit is passively conveying information.  By incorporating lifelike materials with ambient sounds and water as appropriate, the guest is gaining an understanding of the animal’s habitat and ultimately its place in the ecosystem.  The guest can be provided a few visual cues to make points, instead of being forced to read text.  These exciting elements may have a better chance of sticking with the guest compared to text that is often passed by.  Materiality is also very important in immersive environments.  By incorporating real rock, landscape or sand as opposed to murals or other less genuine methods, the guest can better understand the environment.  Obvious barriers can also inhibit the engagement between animals and guests.  Hiding these within landscape can add to the sense of immersion and, ultimately, optimize the educational experience.

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Creating an immersive exhibit will provide the animal with a more natural environment.  Along with naturally appropriate enrichment techniques, we can begin to correctly portray the animal’s native behavior.  Enrichment ideas and any necessary training should avoid anthropomorphizing of animals as much as possible.  Many people associate animal’s behaviors with human behaviors and emotions when these, depending on the animal may be very different.

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Along the same lines as immersive exhibits, I think it is of great importance to include as many interactives as possible.  Humans learn by doing.  If we can provide some kind of activity that indirectly exposes the user to information about animals or conservation it will be successful.  These can range from touch experiences to puzzle type exhibits.  I think that zoos see the importance in these now,  but by adding more, we can really enrich the educational and entertainment experience simultaneously.  A recent example is a high-tech exhibit touch screen wall at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

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The last and arguably most important aspect is our fast growing mobile technology.  I think it is imperative that we begin to capitalize on the interconnectivity of nearly every zoo guest.  It is rare to see a visitor without a smart phone or tablet.  Some theme parks have already begun to incorporate applications that can be loaded onto these devices to engage and interact with the guest.  One example is the application that Sea World Orlando launched for its Turtle Trek attraction.  This interactive game allows users to portray the characters and create a personalized experience.

This idea can be utilized from more than one angle.  Ads and sponsorship could be incorporated to help cover the initial cost of launching as well as produce continued revenue generation over time.  The application could also help motivate guests to explore exhibits outside of the big attractors.  This would have an effect on guest flow, but could help balance the people per minute at any one exhibit.  Educational elements of this kind should be incorporated as well.  There are countless ideas that could be incorporated that could help balance education and entertainment while generating additional revenue for the zoo.

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By building immersive, interactive, and technologically advanced exhibits, we can further engage the guest.  This engagement comes with the added benefit of conveying more knowledge while creating a more entertaining experience and generating revenue.  The emerging technology is a powerful tool that we should use to our advantage.  The Zoo is constantly advancing, both from a guest and business perspective.  The zoos of today are very different from 60 years ago, and they will no doubt be vastly different 60 years from now.

Cray Shellenbarger is from central Illinois and attended Southern Illinois University earning both Bachelor's and Master’s degrees in Architecture.  His thesis focused on human perception of space, specifically in regards to religious architecture.  In his short time at PGAV, Cray has worked on a variety of projects at PGAV including several animal habitats.  cray.shellenbarger@pgav.com

2012: A Year in Zoo Review (and Aquariums, too!)

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The new year is just around the corner and like so many, I've put together a list of the year's highlights--from a zoo design perspective. So, on this final Friday of 2012, grab a cup of joe, tea, or a good ole fashioned flute of champagne and follow along as we recount the opening of permanent exhibits across the U.S. in 2012.

Dallas Zoo's Koala Walk-About

Opened in March, the koala habitat--one of only 10 in the US--anchors a series of Australian exhibits including a lorikeet feed.

LA Zoo's LAIR by David Crane

L.A. Zoo's LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, & Reptiles)

Opened in March, this extensive indoor / outdoor exhibit is one of few major new exhibits in many years to focus entirely on the 'creepy crawlies' of the zoo--attempting to make stars out of those species often overlooked.

Tulsa Zoo's Helmerich Sea Lion Cove

Opened in March, the completely re-vamped exhibit area features an integrated demonstration theater.

SeaWorld Orlando's Turtle Trek

Opened in April, this innovative exhibit and 3D theater experience is a renovation of the existing manatee and turtle exhibits that concisely and powerfully delivers a critical conservation message: You can be an everyday conservation hero.

TN Aq River Giants by Steve Hardy

Tennessee Aquarium's River Giants

Opened in April, the 90,000 gallon freshwater exhibit renovation--converted from a saltwater tank--features species that grow to enormous sizes.

Akron Zoo's Journey to the Reef

Opened in May, the collection of aquatic exhibits replaced a temporary jelly exhibit and features a ray touch pool.

Aquarium of the Pacific's June Keyes Penguin Habitat

Opened in May, the habitat provides above and below water viewing for the Aquarium's 12 new Magellanic penguins.

Toledo Zoo Tembo Trail by Diana Schnuth

Toledo Zoo's Tembo Trail

Opened in May, the African complex is anchored by a major renovation to the elephant exhibit including improved visitor viewing and greater enrichment opportunities for the animals.

Cincinnati Zoo's Cat Canyon

Opened in June, the exhibit features updated homes for tigers, cougars and snow leopards, and eventually achieved Gold LEED status.

Denver Zoo's Toyota Elephant Passage

Opened in June, the innovative 10-acre exhibit is built for up to 8 bull elephants, along with many other Asian species, and features a series of yards--including an overhead transfer bridge--with a deep pool for full submersion. The exhibit also utilizes Timed Entry--limiting visitor capacity--to ensure a great guest experience.

Saint Louis Zoo's Sea Lion Sound

Opened in June, Sea Lion Sound features an entirely new exhibit--featuring a 'never-before-seen for sea lions' walk-thru tube--and large integrated show amphitheater.

Hogle Zoo Rocky Shores by Utah's Hogle Zoo

Utah's Hogle Zoo's Rocky Shores

Opened in June, the entirely new exhibit area, anchored by polar bears with underwater viewing, features species new to the zoo including bears, otters and seals.

Discovery Cove's Freshwater Oasis

Opened in June, this new freshwater experience replaces the original Tropical Reef and features in-water viewing of marmosets and small clawed river otters.

Knoxville Zoo's Valley of the Kings

Opened in August, the revamped lion exhibit enriches the habitat and increase visibility for the guests. Baboons were also brought back to the zoo.

Philadelphia Zoo's Great Ape Trail

Opened in August, the first phase of the first-of-its-kind trail system allows apes to traverse the zoo through a system of overhead mesh tunnels.

Peoria Zoo Walk-About by David Zalaznik_Journal StarPeoria Zoo's Australia Walk-About

Opened in August, the new Australia exhibit allows a barrier-free experience among emu, swan, wallabies and budgies.

National Zoo's American Trail

Opened in September, this series of exhibits completely revamped the existing North America section of the zoo, and features a large sea lion exhibit with demonstration area.

Central Florida Zoo's Otter Exhibit

Opened in September, the lovely exhibit with partial underwater viewing is a true jewel for the small, local zoo.

Cosley Zoo's Bobcat Exhibit

Opened in September, the 20' tall exhibit for a pair of bobcats marks the first major capital investment for the tiny zoo in twenty years.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo's Sea Lion Cove

Opened in September, the zoo's new home for their 3 sea lions and 2 seals caused record attendance for Labor Day weekend.

MN Zoo Black Bears by Joel Schettler

Minnesota Zoo's Black Bear Exhibit

Opened in September, the naturalistic bear exhibit marks the completion of the Minnesota Trails exhibit complex update.

Oklahoma Aquarium's Extreme Amazon

Opened in November, this small exhibit allows guests to pop-up into the habitat of iguanas and Amazonian fish.

Did I miss any? Let me know by commenting below.

Wishing everyone a Happy Zoo Year!

Indy Zoo's Upcoming Orangutan Center

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Hutan Trail from Indianapolis ZooA recent and developing trend in zoo design is the use of trails for animals--expanding the area available for exploration and exercise beyond the typical exhibit footprint.  I believe this trend began with the invention of the  'O-line' at the National Zoo nearly 20 years ago.  The O-line provided a system of transport for the Orangutans between exhibits using their natural behavior of brachiation, and maximized efficiency by utilizing vertical, rather than horizontal, space.  However, over the years, the O-line has supposedly become less utilized by the Zoo due to staffing constraints.  Rumor has it that because the O-line crossed above visitor pathways, keepers were posted below the O-line for safety and clean-up when in use. Recently, the Indianapolis Zoo released plans for an architecturally impressive International Orangutan Center featuring an updated O-line.  It appears this system limits the animals' range over 'people space' and hopefully alleviates some of the concerns of the original National Zoo system.

We'll be discussing the Trails Trend further in the coming months.