October Animal of the Month: Flamingo

Image Why does a flamingo stand on one leg? Because if he lifted both, he'd fall over! This is not included in the October Animal of the Month fact sheet about the many species of flamingo, but a lot of other great information is.  Like, how flamingos build their nests, and how deep to build your next flamingo pool.

If you'd like to receive this and all of the upcoming Animal of the Month fact sheets, contact me directly.  I'll get you signed up to receive them.

Minnesota Zoo: Be True to Yourself


The Minnesota Zoo, located in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities, has long been on my list of must-sees, but especially so after the opening of the much lauded Russia’s Grizzly Coast four years ago.  Of course I would find myself flying to the Great White North a few days before Thanksgiving—what better time of year to visit?  Luckily for me, it was a beautiful, sunny, warm day with just enough visitors to make it interesting.

The Zoo is located near a wildlife preserve and surrounded by residential neighborhood.  The grounds are beautifully wooded with several lakes and wetlands.  Most of the exhibits are new or recently renovated, with those untouched slated for improvements soon.  The Zoo is large enough to fill most of a day (I saw everything except the Farm in a leisurely 5 hours), and is well-organized, avoiding large stretches of nothing to see or having to backtrack.

But what makes the Zoo so interesting to me is its understanding of self.  It’s a very self-aware Zoo.

You may think my next statement is obvious, but its important.  The Zoo is located in Minnesota.  Snowy, cold Minnesota.  This is not balmy Florida.  This is not even temperate St. Louis.  This is a very specific climate.  Cold in the winter.  Not as cold in the summer.  Why is this important?  Let me tell you.

First, climate dictates animal collection.  Many zoos try to shoe-horn species into their collection based on popularity with their market, such as African mammals in Canada or polar bears in the Bahamas.  While this can be done successfully, it is very limiting in that it restricts animal access to outdoors.  This in turn either increases project costs by creating massive indoor exhibits or creates distinct seasonality for the exhibits.  Minnesota Zoo made the decision to feature climatically appropriate species along their outdoor trails.  This means the animals will be active and happy year-round, making for a great experience for those hearty enough to brave the exterior exhibits in winter.

The Zoo has invested in some wonderful indoor exhibits as well--which leads to my next point: Climate dictates organization.  Minnesota Zoo realized that in order to attract any guests at all during the long cold winter, many exhibits would need to be indoors.  Instead of scattering those indoor exhibits along a main path throughout the zoo, the indoor exhibits are clustered around the main entry.  This allows guests to take off their winter coats, drop them into a locker, if they so choose, and spend several hours enjoying the zoo in a comfortable environment.

What’s more, the indoor exhibits are genuinely good.  The Tropics Trail features rainforests from around the globe allowing a broad range of mixed species exhibits-- including a beautiful reef tank featuring the unusual zebra shark and--when I was there--the amazingly popular tank-cleaning diver.

As for Russia’s Grizzly Coast, it is genuinely engaging, featuring many charismatic species including brown bears, sea otters, tigers and leopards in beautiful and complex exhibits.  The rather simple tiger exhibit is huge, and even when the tiger is far in the distance, can easily be seen due to the slope of the exhibit and the elevated, center viewing platform (although I was there when the foliage was dormant, so my experience may be different from others').





Throughout, the Zoo thoughtfully designed places to encourage up-close viewing of the animals.  At the small, but well-executed African penguin exhibit, the exhibit setting extends into the guest space via climbing rocks to allow kids to get face to face with the penguins.  The bear exhibits have dens with windows--and they actually use them.  The cat exhibits are long and skinny so they can be seen even when fully asleep on a rock.

Of course, I am obligated to find some faults.  Overall, my biggest concern was with the interpretives.  They were too heavy with text and generally, not integrated into the thematic story of the experience.  They were in no way terrible; they simply were not up to the level of design of the physical habitats.

My other concern was revenue locations.  This may be a result of visiting during winter when many stands are closed for the season, but I found myself wishing for a nice place to stop and have lunch at the halfway point near the Grain Elevator.  Perhaps a sit down restaurant overlooking one of the lovely spacious exhibits of the Northern Trail, or adjacent to one of the Tiger exhibits would work well.  At the main entry building, the zoo restaurant (a food court) is directly next to another snack stand, Penguin Café, which seemed to me would hurt profits.  I could be wrong though.  And of course, the retail shop is in the wrong spot entirely—located between food court and Penguin Café.  To maximize profits, always locate near the entry--and encourage guests to exit through the gift shop.

Overall, the Minnesota Zoo is a great zoo and highly recommended.  If you live nearby, remember the zoo is winter friendly, so go visit in January.  I swear you’ll be just fine.

Historic Buildings: Obstacles or Opportunities?


By Russell Ploutz Historic zoo buildings are a growing dilemma for zoos, especially older zoos. The historic buildings don’t meet current design standards for animals, but laws require preserve of culturally significant structures. Are these buildings limiting the potential of zoos or seeds for innovation?

The subject of preservation of historic buildings has been on my mind lately after talking with a student researching education at the Buenos Aires Zoo. Many of the zoo’s design challenges are complicated by the numerous historical structures, monuments and paths designated for preservation in the 124 year old zoo. In thinking about the challenges the historical buildings present the zoo, I considered the historic buildings as an opportunity instead of a problem.

The first thought I had was a general design strategy that inverts the current spaces for animals and visitors. The concept designates the buildings and areas for preservation into spaces for visitors while the current people spaces are redesigned for animals. The existing visitor area is freed for animals and exhibits with space for animal enclosures and new support buildings. Since the buildings are easier to renovate for visitor uses than animals, the design strategy may be a more feasible solution than renovating the buildings for new animal standards.

By using the inversion design strategy, the buildings are integrated into the new exhibit environment. As visitors move through the exhibits, the buildings could be used for viewing windows into the exhibits. The buildings could also tell cultural stories and stimulate visitor’s recall of prior knowledge. Additionally, the interior space could be used for large educational exhibits and interpretives.

Reusing historic buildings is not a new concept for zoos. At the Toledo Zoo, the original feline house was reused as a new restaurant. In St. Louis, the zoo converted the historic elephant house into new exhibition space. In addition to adapting spaces for people, the Kansas City Zoo converted a historic building originally used for large mammals to a building for smaller rainforest animals.

Zoos should not feel required to preserve historic buildings due to government requirements, but zoos should want to share their history. Even though the buildings and landscapes may represent memories zoos want to forget, they are a part of their history and our cultural attitudes toward animals. Zoos could use the buildings to tell stories about improving conservation efforts and society’s evolving attitudes toward wildlife.

Not only do structures need new life, but what about the landscapes? How can they be reimagined to contribute to zoo’s conservation efforts? After all, zoos are primarily outdoor environments.

With some innovative thinking historic buildings can gain new life. Ultimately, if the building meets the needs of animals and visitors learn from the experience, is it not a successful exhibit?

Entertaining the Future, Part 1 (AZA, 2012)


One of the most interesting sessions I attended this year was lead by PGAV’s own fantastically enthusiastic designer, Dave Cooperstein.  His specialty within our office is show production, which, you may think, is traditionally confined within the theme park arena.  However, Dave’s point is every show--no matter how small (think: keeper chat)--can tell a powerful story.  It just takes a little planning. Storytelling, as we’ve talked about before on Designing Zoos, is a powerful tool to reach your guests emotionally, on a personal level, and to convey a conservation message.  Storytelling, and thus personal connection, is at the heart of great show production.

Dave suggests that smaller ‘shows’ like keeper chats are excellent ways to connect on a personal level, and can be great theater.  But these connections can be created on any level, from a one-on-one interaction to a mega, arena show.

The critical element is to understand that varying audience sizes should be a strategy within your educational master plan, as each size and scope may more effectively convey a specific message.  Beyond that, providing a variety of show experiences keeps families of all ages and sizes entertained throughout the day which increases satisfaction and encourages repeat visits.

So how can you effectively plan shows for your institution?  Dave suggests a logical approach of goal setting and programming based on a defined set of show production criteria,  such as:

  • Theater size
  • Concessions
  • Performer type
  • Music
  • Story conveyance

Thorough evaluation of each of these characteristics looks not at the quality level, but at the specific assessment of size, scope, technology needs, staff allocation, etc.  These evaluations will indicate where along the Show Production Scale your shows may fall—with the intention of creating a variety of experiences throughout your park.

Stay tuned for Part II where Dave explores the past, present and future of show production.

Training Butterflies for Interactions


During the AZA 2012 poster session, I came across an intriguing group describing how they've successfully trained butterflies for interactions.  Yes, you read that correctly.  In actuality, "training" is somewhat a misnomer for butterflies; more accurately, they are habituated for handling, and manipulated into long basking periods (by understanding the natural physiology and behavior of the insects). Woodman, Kim and Kassinger have seen the benefits of these increased and prolonged interactions through guest enjoyment, but also by leveraging the experience for revenue potential:  the consistency of behavior allows for guaranteed photo ops.

Learn more about their project and how you can create your own program by reading their full paper here: Butterfly Experiences by Woodman, Kim & Kassinger

Learning in Zoos: Design Guidelines, Part 3


By Russell Ploutz Example projects

To understand how to apply the nine principles and fifty-three guidelines, I designed seven example projects. The projects illustrate how the design guidelines coalesce to create a cognitive experience and shape the exhibit form. For each of the example projects, illustrations and narratives explain how the exhibit engages and facilitates visitor’s learning processes following the design guidelines. Projects like Who is Right?, Help the Otters, and Two Waterways describe exhibit concepts and possible design strategies for using the guidelines such as comparison, decision-making and action-taking.

One example project, Four Lives, centers on the activity of role playing and decision-making. First, visitors choose to be a farmer, poacher or ranger and throughout the exhibit experience situations and information specific to their character. In some situations they make decisions applying their prior knowledge, information presented in the exhibit and their emotions by reacting to the situation affecting their character. The exhibit facilitates the decision-making process by stimulating recall with design elements, guiding understanding with trained actors and engaging advanced cognitive processes. To enable their application of knowledge, the visitor circulation is a network of pathways where at each junction visitors choose a path linked to their decision. The chosen path leads visitors to a new situation embodying the consequence of their decision, providing feedback on their application of learning.

Design Manual

I compiled the example projects, guidelines and background information into an interactive digital document. The interactivity reflects the complexity and interconnected process of learning by providing hyperlinks to related information using a navigation bar. The bar helps the reader navigate the complexity and make connections between related concepts, guidelines and example projects.

Overall, the design manual presents a vision of increased visitor engagement and greater influence of exhibits on learning. It demonstrates how the program, exhibit organization and spatial characteristics can affect visitor’s learning processes. Additionally, the document raises questions about the design approach and extra design processes needed in the design of zoo exhibits for learning. Ultimately, the guidelines have the potential to provide new visitor experiences and design strategies which engage learning processes, helping to achieve zoo’s goal of conservation.

If you are interested in the other example projects, learning more about cognitive processes, and how exhibits can facilitate learning feel free to contact me at

Learning in Zoos: Design Guidelines, Part 2


By Russell Ploutz After recalling prior knowledge and preparing visitors for learning, the exhibit and included activities can facilitate learning processes by employing the following principles to improve understanding.

5. Grasp - capitalize on concrete experiences.

The Grasp principle describes how exhibits can most effectively leverage the unique experiences people come to zoos for - personal experiences with animals and nature. Exhibits can use concrete experience to help visitors understand abstract concepts such as ecological processes, critical to understanding zoo’s messages. The principle describes how to coordinate the presentation of abstract concepts with concrete experiences and vice versa.

6. Guide - facilitate meaning-making.

Exhibits can also assist visitors in understanding new information by guiding them in the meaning-making process. The Guide principle describes how exhibits can facilitate understanding with visitor activities and exhibit situations by stimulating additional cognitive processes.

7. Apply - reinforce learning with application.

After understanding new information, exhibits can encourage visitors to use their new knowledge to reinforce the learning. By applying information in new situations visitor’s understanding strengthens with increased contextualization. The Apply principle describes design strategies for visitor activities and exhibit situations promoting application of learning.

8. Transfer – connect information to other situations.

Similarly, the Transfer principle explains how learning is a continual process where people use information from previous experiences and in future ones - the learning experience is but one point in time. This principle explains how exhibits can embrace the dynamic process of learning by making connections to other situations outside of the immediate exhibit context.

9. Individual - facilitate different learning preferences.

The Individual principle describes how the learning process is unique to different visitors. We each have personal preferences for learning and since we control what we engage in zoos, exhibits need to reach the largest audience possible by appeal to many different types of visitors. The principle explains how to employ our choice and control to increase understanding by designing for each of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

Part 3 in Russell Ploutz's series...

National Zoo's New "American Trail"


Appropriately opening on the all-American holiday, Labor Day 2012, National Zoo's newest exhibit, American Trail, features sea lions in completely new digs along with a host other familiar faces in revamped homes.  The $42 million project replaced the existing and quite tired North America region, where sea lions swam in an unnatural-looking bright blue pool.  The exhibit focuses on species with successful conservation stories, such as the Bald Eagle and the Grey Wolf.

The undeniable stars of the new exhibit are the pinnipeds--a mixed group of seals and sea lions sharing their habitat with brown pelicans.  Their exhibit mimics the California coast, and inspired the architecture and materials choices throughout American Trails.  The exhibit features two separate pools, 300,000 and 150,000 gallons respectively, feature a wave machine, and are designed to eventually be switched from fresh water to salt.  Built into the exhibit are three viewing areas--under-water, over-water and split--as well as a small amphitheater for keeper demonstrations on exhibit.  The exhibit currently houses four sea lions and one grey seal, but the Zoo expects to receive another 3 seals soon.

Additionally, the beavers improved exhibit includes a new den that they built themselves--replacing a fully artificial one in their previous enclosure.  The old wolf enclosure has been spruced up with new plantings and dead fall, and viewing has been improved.

American Trail also includes an interactive tide pool for splashing about, and a thematically appropriate dining facility featuring locally sourced and renewable seafood and vegetarian options (managed by Sodexo).

Finally, the National Zoo is a leader in instituting green practices into their new exhibits, and American Trail is no exception.  Great care was especially given to the landscape of the exhibit.  All flora is native, and the design was sensitive to the preservation of the naturally occurring forested areas of the Zoo.

From the Zoo website:

"Green practices incorporated into American Trail include:

  • American Trail reused an existing site (formerly Beaver Valley) with lower-impact construction methods, including retaining walls that reduced the disturbance of soils, vegetation, and tree roots and minimize the impact on upslope trees. Next to the retaining walls are small rain-gardens that help manage storm water drainage
  • All of the water in the seal and sea lion exhibit is recycled originating from the District of Columbia’s water system. Tap water, however, does not meet the stringent standards for aquatic animal care. A new state-of-the-art filtration system scrubs the water and removes any chemical treatments. The pH balance is adjusted for the animals and filtered a final time using ozone filtration.
  • Aquatic life support systems and equipment have been replaced to provide better control of water chemistry and quality.
  • Thanks to careful design of the pools and expanded backwash systems, this exhibit uses less than half the amount of water similar pools (designed with standard techniques) would use.
  • An ozone disinfectant system will reduce our dependence on chlorine for disinfecting the pool water.
  • Low emitting materials, certified wood, materials with recycled content, and regional materials were used to align with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
  • Full cut-off light fixtures will limit light pollution.
  • Shading of the pools will keep the water form absorbing so much heat from the sun.
  • Heating, ventilation, and cooling of people and animal spaces is controlled individually in each space, to reduce energy use when those spaces are not being used."

This exhibit was designed by Portico Group from Seattle, WA and architects Quinn Evans from Washington, DC,  and constructed by Forrester Construction, from Rockville, MD.  Congratulations to all involved!

The Smithsonian National Zoo has a great Flickr stream of the new exhibit here.

Learning at Zoos: Design Guidelines, Part 1


We at always love guest bloggers and new, insightful information.  So when former PGAV intern, Russell Ploutz, offered to share his thesis project on learning in zoos, I jumped at the chance to share his brilliance with the world.  He has summarized his extremely in-depth and thoughtful project for us, and I'll be posting it via 3 installments.  Without further adieu... Cognitive Based Zoo Design Guidelines by Russell Ploutz

What is learning?

Learning is the process of transforming information into knowledge using cognitive processes - the “mental process that individuals undergo as they think, learn, and perform problem-solving and decision-making activities.”  If humans use predictable processes during learning, how can zoo exhibits engage those processes to improve visitor learning? Insights from cognitive psychology provide guidance for how to facilitate human learning processes, creating fulfilling visitor experiences while achieving zoos’ mission of education.

By researching the fundamentals of learning I developed a set of design guidelines for zoo exhibits which stimulate and facilitate visitor’s learning processes. I created the design guidelines by gathering professional zoo designer’s input, reviewing literature and personal findings resulting in a design manual for engaging cognitive processes. The manual contains three elements: background information synthesizing literature specific to zoo exhibit designers, design guidelines for engaging learning processes and, example projects I designed illustrating the application of the guidelines.

Learning Principles

Fifty-three design guidelines are grouped into nine principles addressing different aspects of learning. Each learning principle contains related guidelines and background information which ground the guidelines in scientific studies. Additionally, the principles contain methods and potential design strategies for employing the design guidelines.

The first principles describe prerequisite cognitive processes to engage prior to transforming information into knowledge. Meeting these initial principles is critical because without their provision learning is unlikely to occur.

1. Identity - learning needs to fulfill our motivations.

For learning to succeed in places like zoos where we control how and what we engage, we need to want to learn. The Identity principle builds on Falk’s work on Visitor Identities describing visitor’s motivations and needs. The principle explains how to fulfill each visitor’s Identity by productively satisfying their social and personal needs with learning opportunities.

2. Attention - we must engage the exhibit.

Once visitors are motivated to engage in learning, then exhibits can assist visitors in focusing on learning content. For learning to occur, we must direct our attention in the exhibit to acquire information. The Attention principle describes how exhibit characteristics can direct visitor’s attention on learning content to engage the information.

3. Inform - we need to know how to engage.

In addition to directing visitor’s attention on learning content, exhibits also need to inform visitors as to how they can engage in learning. If we do not know how to engage the exhibit, how can we learn from the exhibit? The Inform principle explains how exhibits can directly and indirectly notify visitors of learning opportunities.

4. Recall - we use prior knowledge with new information.

Once visitors are prepared to learn the exhibit can facilitate one of the most critical aspects in learning, the recall of prior information and experiences. We use our past experiences to understand new information and situations through contextualization. This principle explains how exhibit elements and design characteristics can evoke past memories helping visitors understand new information.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3...

New River Otter Exhibit at Central FL Zoo! (UPDATED)


Over the Labor Day weekend, I made the trek up to Sanford, FL--a suburb of Orlando, approximately 2.5 hours from my home base in Bradenton--just to check out their new North American River Otter exhibit on opening day.     The Central Florida Zoo is a small, quaint park, tucked into what appears to be native Florida swamp lands.  The zoo features winding boardwalks, a gravel parking lot, and a ropes course weaving between old live oaks dripping in Spanish moss.   A fairly simple zoo--most exhibits feature welded wire mesh supported by thick, rustic timbers.  Basic, but not offensive providing an easy, carefree family day out. The new otter exhibit is markedly different.  Adorned with high-quality rockwork as mudbanks (complete with roots and branches), the exhibit features three glass viewing areas, each from a well-conceived and unique vantage.  The main view, along the longest dimension of the exhibit, allows for partial underwater viewing.  The water that day was crystal clear.  Unfortunately, the otter wasn't swimming while I was there.

The other two views occur on the short dimensions and are located in such a way as to eliminate cross-viewing of guests.  The exhibit is filled with turf as well as medium and large plantings, enough to allow the otter to explore, play, and, to my dismay, disappear.

The exhibit is spacious, but sized for at least two otters.  Since the Zoo did not previously have them in the collection, the otters are slowly being introduced to their exhibit--and to each other.  Hopefully soon, they'll both be on exhibit together, increasing the odds of seeing at least one while visiting.

My only criticism is the shade, or lack of shade, at each viewing window.  At the underwater viewing glass, the design of the shade structure is visually appealing, but the slatted design of the pergola creates shadow that, while minimizing glare, is incredibly distracting and almost disorienting.  At one of the dry viewing panels--where no shade was provided at all--the glare was so bad, the window was almost unusable.  I did visit during the afternoon (2pm), so wonder if this problem persists all day, or if I was perhaps just unlucky with my timing. want the details of the exhibit?  Ask and you shall receive, my friends!

Designer: Borrelli + Partners, Inc. (Orlando, FL)

Total Area (sf): 1540

Total Volume (gal): 11,000

Holding: 424 sf CMU building with (2) 4' x 5' stalls, plus an off-exhibit outdoor yard

Project timeline: Design began in Nov. 2010; Construction began in July 2011; Exhibit opened Sept. 2012

Total Cost: $80,000

Yes, that last number is correct.  $80,000!!  This exhibit feels like $1 million, so kudos to the Zoo and staff for getting creative and finding cost cutting ways to achieve the project.  "The Zoo typically builds or updates exhibits for less than what the average zoo can do since our staff helps with building and design efforts,” said Shonna Green, Director, Communications & Community Resources for the Zoo.  Among these efforts was the rockwork, constructed by a zoo staffer.

Additionally, the Zoo confirmed the opening date to not be strategic, but in fact simply dictated by completion of construction.  "We normally prefer to open an exhibit over spring break or during the fall, however we were finished with construction in August.  The Zoo couldn’t hide an exhibit of this size from our guests; therefore we determined to open it over a long holiday weekend for our community,” said Green.

Again, congratulations on a great exhibit, and thank you for sharing the exhibit details.

"Safari Africa!" Revealed at Columbus Zoo


Today, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium officially broke ground on the 40+ acre, $30 million Safari Africa! project.  Director Emeritus, Jack Hanna, acting Director, Tom Stalf, and a host of other stakeholders dug into the open fields once used for soybean farming located just north of the current zoo property. "We had a beautiful sunny morning, the photos outlining the project...were outstanding and were placed around the tent.   We had three huge metal giraffes from our gift shop which welcomed our guests.  Our friends from the promotions department joined us with Trout the Penguin , Lucky the Leopard Turtle, a Wild Boar and a Porcepine.   Jack, Tom and other dignitaries, armed with their “gold” shovels autographed by Jack, took the first shovels of dirt from the site," stated Daryl Halvacs from the Zoo's Planning and Design department.

Along with the ceremony, the Zoo published a series of conceptual renderings prepared by project designer, PGAV.  As an insider, I'll share  a tiny secret:  these renderings are just a taste of the whole experience so prepare to be surprised when you visit after opening May 2014!

St. Louis Zoo's "Sea Lion Sound"


This summer was an exciting one for the sea lions at St. Louis Zoo!  On June 30, 2012, a new, state-of-the-art PGAV-designed exhibit and amphitheater was officially opened after years of design and construction--on the very spot of their old exhibit.  Located in what is referred to as the 'Historic Basin', Sea Lion Sound anchors the core of the zoo, right at the major crossroads for north-south circulation and the eastern spur.  The exhibit was the first to be completed from the most recent master plan also completed by PGAV. Below is a fly-through video of the Sea Lion Sound original design.


The $18 million project features a large exhibit with both underwater and overwater views, a large open-air, shaded amphitheater and show pool (complete with sea lion slide!), holding facilities and underground LSS yard.  Exhibit viewing is completely unique to sea lion exhibits in the United States, and features a 23 foot tall flat panel as well as the crown jewel, a 35 foot long acrylic tunnel.  The show pool is also fronted in acrylic to allow both underwater and overwater enjoyment.

Recently, I was able to interview a PGAV staffer who was instrumental in the creation of Sea Lion Sound, Rosey Masek-Block, about the specifics of the project.

DZ: What was your official role in the project, Rosey?

RMB: Construction Administrator.  I attended weekly meetings with the CM [Construction Manager] and GC [General Contractor] to address any questions or concerns that had come up.

DZ: What was the most challenging aspect of your job?

RMB: Providing answers quickly when unforeseen conditions arose.  A lot of times there would existing site conditions, weather conditions, or delayed deliveries that would affect what was going on.  Any long delay in an answer would delay the construction.

DZ: What was the most satisfying?  

RMB: Seeing the Sea Lions happily swimming and performing.  Also attending the shows incognito and having the public sit by you and express how excited they were that THEIR zoo has something this new, beautiful, and exciting.

DZ: That must be so amazing! Now, let's get into some specifics.  How big is the total project area?

RMB: The total construction site is about 1.5 ares.

DZ: How many animals will be living here, and what species are they? 

RMB: Right now there are 10 California Sea Lions and 1 Harbor Seal.  3 of the Sea Lions were born at the STL Zoo.  It was designed to accommodate 10-15 sea lions.  {Steve Bircher, curator, says the zoo may adopt or breed sea lions in the future, but has no plans to take in any additional seals.}

DZ: How many gallons are in the total system?  How many per pool?

RMB: The entire system is roughly 250,000 gallons.  All the pools are linked together, but roughly the main exhibit pool makes up about 190,000.

DZ: How big is the Exhibit, in area?

RMB: The Exhibit itself is about 11,000 square feet.

DZ: How many seats in theater?

RMB: There are approximately 830 seats, give or take a few, as it is bench style seating.

DZ: What were the design goals for the project?

RMB: I wasn’t on the design team for this [project] in the beginning, [but according to them] there were a few main things we were hoping to achieve: To provide the feel of the Pacific northwest in the rockwork, buildings, and surroundings (mimicking the natural habitat). To keep the profile of the exhibit as low as possible--we still wanted to preserve as much of the views looking up/down historic hill as possible. To provide an up-to-date filtering system to reduce water waste, and to provide an entertaining and playful environment for the animals and the people.  The tunnel needed to be low enough to provide enough space for animals to feel comfortable on both sides of the exhibit.  After all, they sometimes express just as much curiosity looking at the people as the people do looking at them.

DZ: That's absolutely true.  Sometimes we underestimate the power of the visitor as a form of animal enrichment!  Is there a conservation message?  How is it presented (show or exhibit?)? 

RMB: Water Conservation is probably the biggest.  Originally the old exhibit was a dump and fill pool.  The new system filters the water rather than replacing it.  {Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, Zoo President, recently stated that since the species of sea lions and seals living in this exhibit are not endangered, he believes this exhibit to be more about educating guests about the animals rather than about conservation.}

DZ: What were the main components to the design…theater, exhibit, holding, what else?

RMB: The Life Support Systems Basement.  Most people can’t tell that under the little holding buildings is a 2 story basement containing all the equipment needed to keep the exhibit healthy and beautiful.  Also providing shade for the public as well as the animals was a huge part of the project.

DZ: What other animal projects have you worked on?  Do you think of yourself as a zoological designer or just an architect that happens to have worked on animal projects?  

RMB: I’ve been a part of STL Zoo Bear Design and the design team for a project at Columbus Zoo.  Right now I would consider myself an architect working TOWARDS becoming a zoological designer.

DZ: What a great way to think about it!  You've certainly gotten some significant experiences under your belt!

RMB: I enjoyed being part of the process – I feel really proud when I take people to my local zoo and can say I was part of helping make it great.

Thanks for your time and dedication, Rosey!  Congratulations everyone who contributed to this wonderful project.

Glacier Run Wins TOP HONORS!


You may have already heard the wonderful news, but if not, Designing Zoos is proud to announce that Louisville Zoo's PGAV-designed Glacier Run received the Top Honors award in Exhibit Design on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the annual AZA Conference in Phoenix. As mentioned before, this exhibit is near and dear to my heart as it is the first exhibit in which I was deeply involved.  I was even a part of the interview team--and as such, did some on-site visitor research at Detroit Zoo and at Louisville prior to meeting the zoo for the first time!

We're so proud of the innovation and teamwork required to concept, design, construct, and maintain the guest and animal experience, and inspired by the dedication and insight of the Louisville Zoo staff.  It truly is a wonderful exhibit!

If you haven't visited, get yourself there!  And be sure to share photos with us!

DZ visits the Lemur Conservation Reserve


After a quick email exchange and phone conversation with Patti Walsh, Director of Research and Operations at the Lemur Conservation Foundation, a visit to their Lemur Reserve was in order.  Located just outside Myakka City, FL, a town with little more than a farm store and a yellow light, the Reserve is over 100 rural acres of mixed pine and oak forest.

The Foundations’ 44 lemurs have free-range within two fenced-in forested yards, 10 and 13 acres each.  Compatible breeding groups are rotated between these two yards and holding facilities near the yards.  The holding facilities have both indoor stalls (of various size, but averaging 8’ x 8’) immediately adjacent to outdoor, fully enclosed yards.  These yards are approximately 20’ x 10’ x 8’ tall, and are elegantly appointed with all manner of lemur fun, playtime equipment.

Within each large forested yard, lemurs have the option to hang out in a holding facility featuring a geodesic dome which provides respite from the weather.  The domes are made from Styrofoam, covered in plaster, and offer insulating qualities in both the heat of summer in central Florida and the chilly temperatures that sometimes occur during winter.  The domes are located between two elevated outdoor stalls, and allow indoor transfer between the two outdoor yards for maximum flexibility and in case of emergency.

Currently, the Reserve features a small on-site clinic space—really little more than a room with veterinary supplies, and each holding building has its own small kitchen space.  The 13 acre yard holding building’s kitchen is slightly larger allowing for the bulk of food storage, but with fresh produce donations occurring twice weekly, no large cooler space is required.

The Reserve was opened in 2000 with 32 lemurs and continues to grow with successful breeding on-site.  The lemurs are often lent to other institutions for breeding as directed by the SSP. Long-term plans include the addition of another forest yard but is limited by both funding and growth of currently scrubby shrubs and seedlings.  In the short-term, the Foundation is looking forward to enlarging the clinic space to enable more procedures to occur on-site, rather than transporting, as they do now, to a local veterinarian, nearly 45 minutes away.

Ultimately, the goal of the Reserve is to return lemurs to the wild, but for now, it is used as a breeding facility and base for research.  The lemurs here are interested in people, and several came from their patrols in the forest to check me out from their perches high in the trees.  Those housed in the holding facilities ran to say hello.  So amazing!

If I could suggest anything for this special place, it would be to create an experience that the public at large could enjoy—right now, only researchers and special guests are allowed.  This would represent one version of the future of zoos as visualized by some designers.

Keeping Animals Cool in a Scorcher Summer


We all know this summer was a doozy.  Droughts, heatwaves, and for me, an impending hurricane.  After one of my late morning dog walks, where poor little Moe Moe decided to give up after half a block, I wondered, what are our zoo friends doing to keep their critters happy and healthy in this extreme weather?

Of course, some of the animals love this weather!  The ringtail lemurs at the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka City, Florida, for example, are native to Madagascar's hot steamy deserts and find the recent heat to be exhilarating.  In fact, Pattie Walsh, Director of Research and Operations, explained these guys prefer one specific yard over the other due to the drier, sunnier conditions, while their cohorts in the other, wetter and shadier yard-- the brown and mongoose lemurs native to rainforests--regularly take advantage of the misting system available to them.

For others, like the grizzly bears living in the, er, unbearable, road-buckling heat of Milwaukee this year, keepers must intervene with solutions.  Dawn Fleuchaus, keeper at Milwaukee County Zoo, told me they run hoses from the holding roof for misting the bears, and even added a shade structure to the outdated exhibit.  She stressed the importance of shade and, of course, lots of freezer space for making frozen treats.

St. Louis Zoo used garbage cans to make giant blocks of ice with food items frozen inside, which, as carnivore curator Steve Bircher explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, serves double duty: cooling the animals and providing extra nutrition when they are least willing to consume.

Other solutions include pools.  One keeper suggested designing pools into most new enclosures, and adding blocks of ice to them when temperatures soar.  uShaka Sea World in South Africa designed each 'green room' stall for their fur seals so that it can function either dry or as a shallow pool.  They also utilized shower heads to provide chilled 'rain'.

Whatever means zoos utilize to keep their animals cool, one thing is for certain.  Designers need to provide flexibility and options.  Opportunities for shade is a simple one, as well as water hook-ups for misting or spraying.  Lots of room inside the holding building for storage and coolers, if needed.  We can't possibly predict every need within an exhibit, so providing staff with the ability to get creative and easily implement changes is key.

Now I want to know...What's your hurricane plan?

Portico's NY Aq "Ocean Wonders: Sharks!" Exhibit to Break Ground Soon


After years of speculation and design changes and changes and changes, WCS officially announced today that the upcoming new attraction "Ocean Wonders: Sharks!" will break ground in October of this year.  Designed as a collaboration between WCS's in-house design team and the Portico Group, the new exhibit will feature 500,000 gallons of saltwater within a 57,000 square foot building.  The exhibit will be home to  sharks, rays and sea turtles, and is expected to anchor a revitalization of historic Coney Island.  The exhibit is expected to open in the spring of 2015.

Based on the 3D fly-through, the exhibits will be fairly immersive and feature New York as a recurring theme. Check out the fly-through here.

Congratulations to all involved!

DZ visits Zoo Miami!


Admittedly, I hadn't heard much about Zoo Miami previous to my visit last week.  And because of that, my expectations were quite low.  Boy was I surprised!

The Zoo is thoughtfully laid out in a bow-tie or figure 8, with the entry and exit occurring from a central 'tail' at the intersection of the 8.  I like this basic configuration as it benefits both the guests, in terms of easy wayfinding, and the zoo, in possible revenue generation.  By placing the Zoo's main dining location at the central intersection, guests pass by at least twice daily, and possibly up to 4x.

The main dining area is surrounded by a large play area with water play, as well as lovely views to a natural lake.  Both water play and water views are an essential part of the Zoo's identity--and set it apart from many I've visited.  Many opportunities for sprays and mists are found throughout the Zoo, which I am imagine are essential in the tropical locale.

Although the history of the Zoo spans to the mid-1950s, the physical zoo we now know opened in the early 1980s.  One of the largest zoos in the country, Zoo Miami boasts over 320 developed acres with an additional 400 acres untouched.  Its a large zoo, and in 2.5 sweaty hours, I only saw the northern loop.

Because the zoo is relatively young, its original design has remained basically intact.  Following the trends in exhibitry of the late 1970s to the early 80s, the zoo is experienced, by and large, via a wide main path (the figure 8 mentioned previously).  Along this path, exhibits are stacked providing prototypical long unobstructed viewing associated with that time.  However, since then the exhibits have mostly been updated (EDIT: Exhibits were in fact designed this way originally!) to remove the back fences providing beautiful long, uninterrupted views, sometimes into adjacent exhibits.  This is especially effective in the rhino exhibit, where elephants can be seen roaming in the distance.

Zoo Miami recently underwent a master plan with the resultant Amazon & Beyond  exhibit opening in December, 2008.  This exhibit, designed by Jones & Jones and EDSA, encompasses several habitat types and features a multitude of species including jaguars, giant river otters, monkeys, birds, and reptiles.  The exhibit is over 27 acres, cost $50 million, and includes both indoor and outdoor exhibit experiences.  The exhibit is overall well done, but did leave the impression that, as with most projects, the initial design was over-ambitious and over budget--causing some unfortunate, and questionable, cuts.

For example, the small animal exhibits were abundant.  In fact, each habitat type must have been supported by at least 6 small, or jewel, exhibits as well as several bird exhibits.  However, these exhibits felt almost aquarium-like--flat walls with signage above a square viewing window.  These exhibits, shamefully, did not draw me in, and after about the 8th jewel case, I started walking by them completely, eyes glazed over.  I would've suggested a cut to the species list in favor of a more thematic guest experience, drawing in the guests to a few featured exhibits rather than the repetitive cases.

I would like to point out a cool little design at the jaguar exhibit, where between two outdoor yards, the cats are able to transfer over head.  The jaguars also had a nice pool with a semi-underwater viewing window.  Unfortunately for me, they weren't on exhibit while I was there.

The giant river otter exhibit was also nicely designed with both overwater and semi-underwater viewing.  Of course, it didn't hurt that they'd just been fed when I arrived, so were characteristically energetic and entertaining.

The zoo has a lot of space for growth.  So much so that the long walks between exhibits became cumbersome and tiring, despite the beautiful tropical landscape and non-exhibit hidden gems, like thematically inspired sculpture.  However, I commend Zoo Miami for taking advantage of this possible detriment by providing various forms of transport for a small fee.  My favorite was the Safari Cycles--vehicles reminiscent of Model T cars requiring the riders to power by pedal.  The zoo also has a Monorail--which I didn't see in use, and tram tours.

Overall, a very nice experience and one that apparently many Miami tourists miss.  With annual attendance slowly nearing the 1 million mark, Zoo Miami certainly has the opportunity for growth within its market with targeted strategies directed at the South Beach set.  Perhaps the upcoming Florida: Mission Everglades exhibit will increase awareness of the zoo, allowing them to break free of their stigma as a local attraction--as I do believe they could double their attendance with the experience they currently offer.

Green Design in Zoos

Back in October 2010, I was honored to be a part of the AZFA (American Zoo Facilities Association) National Conference in St. Louis, MO.  In the shadow of my green genius partner, Mariusz Bleszynski (AIA, LEED AP), we presented a talk about the real nuts and bolts of green design in a zoo exhibit.

Because so much green design talk is generalized, we decided to tackle the issue head-on.  What are the practical applications of green construction in a zoo?  Most zoos utilize green methods somewhere on site, but usually it's applied in what I call the "easy places": nutrition centers, gift shops, special events pavilions.  Places that are typical construction in a non-traditional setting.  But the question always comes do we make a green EXHIBIT?

Mariusz and I put our heads together and came up with a list of specific things that can, in some cases, be easily incorporated into an exhibit.  In other cases, its more difficult--generally because it costs more up front.

I've included a link to the AZFA 2010_If I Were A Green Exhibit powerpoint presentation, but for those who just want the highlights, here's a list of our top tips:

1.   Maximize Recycled Content: Reuse existing structures, spec materials that are recycled or can easily be recycled; Minimize non-recycled or hard to recycle materials like concrete!

2.  Use Geothermal Heating / Cooling: In thermally balanced environments, you can utilize this energy to heat / cool buildings and even small pools.  Wells can be placed almost anywhere, including beneath the exhibit or building.

3.  Use Solar Panels Strategically: Solar panels cost A LOT so use sparingly if at all UNLESS you have extra dollars to spend on green technology, want to create an educational exhibit, or can use to power specific items such as signage, interactives, lighting, gates, etc.

4.  Water Recycling: Can be any scale from rain barrels from roofs to zoo wide programs collecting run-off and wash down.  Can be used for exhibit wash down, irrigation, and toilet flushing.

5. Use Native Plants: Eliminates irrigation and fertilization needs and can be selected to mimic just about any environment.

6. Use Water Based Chillers instead of Traditional Air Based: More efficient, less noisy, longer lasting.  25% more expensive.  A bargain!

Within the presentation, we outlined initial costs, return on investment, and developed imagery to help everyone understand how these green technologies affect the visitor experience.

What is your zoo doing to become more green?

Honolulu Classes it Up!

Honolulu Zoo recently revealed the newest of their renovation work: a new Entry experience.   The project has been ongoing since 2002, apparently falling victim to the ever-present issue of budget problems.  The final cost of the new entry was just about $3 million. The old entry dated back to the 1960's, and while, in my opinion, seemed to visually represent Hawai'i quite well, it apparently had lived its life.

The new entry is quite beautiful, drawing both from the vernacular architecture and the Hawaiian landscape for inspiration.  It adds capacity and increases the gift shop to 2000sf.  Unfortunately, from what I can see, they did not incorporate any animals immediately upon entrance, which seems to be the hot trend as of late.