Since I managed not to upload the photographs from this past weekend I will postpone my weekend report until later this week. In substitution I submit a post that I wrote back in spring 2009 as part of a previous attempt to connect and foster design related conversation among a few former roommates and architectural colleagues. That attempt ended rather unceremoniously but perhaps the post could serve to foster greater conversation or comment on this forum. Enjoy.
Each time I visit the Buffalo Zoological Garden I am overcome with nostalgia and the powerful sense of history. This past weekend I did just that, in a sort of follow-up visit to my research trips last year.
During my last year at school I spent many hours studying the forms and functions of the Buffalo Zoo in anticipation of an attractive new addition to the facility. My senior thesis design project was based around this new addition, as well as the revitalization and reorganization of the zoo. As the construction company was building Rainforest Falls, the new walk through exhibit that utilizes the concepts of immersive design and natural barriers, I was developing an alternate project. Using the same zoological concepts I incorporated a bit more “architecture.”
The history of the third oldest zoo in the country is a great one, and while I find the story fascinating, unfortunately there are far too many intricacies to fully develop a competent discussion on this venue. The original Zoological Garden, as well as many of the other public parks throughout Buffalo, were designed by the great American landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead in 1875, and until now, very little of the original form has been altered. Olmstead’s formal organization and symmetrical balance have been preserved, I believe, to the benefit of the zoo.
So many of the “modern” zoos simply result from a series of disconnected additions and renovations as funding becomes available. As a result the visitor circulation, exhibit organization, and overall cohesion of the facility suffer greatly. The advantage of age that the Buffalo Zoo has is clearly apparent, from the large iron gates at the entrance ticket booths to the universal rusticated buildings. Unfortunately, due to size limitations, the newly opened Rainforest exhibit had to compromise some of the primary organizational principles of the site. Fortunately, the designers saw fit to use similar rustication techniques on the exterior cladding of the exhibit as on the existing buildings.
The design thesis I presented last spring featured a very literal interpretation of Olmstead’s formal symmetry as well as a rather fantastical budget for the sparse funding of a small zoo. The design was based on the most ideal conditions available, a feature I am afraid was lost on the limited vision of the guest critics. I spent much of the allotted time studying zoo design principles, learning much about topics such as deep green design, landscape immersion concepts, naturalistic enrichment, and basic zoo visitor circulation. Many of these lessons were taught by Jon Coe, a renowned Australian landscape architect who specializes in zoo design around the world. I am sure in the posts to follow I will discuss several of these concepts. It is an extremely interesting and enticing opportunity to design a common area for the human program requirements and that of any number of additional species with a vast array of additional program requirements.
At some point in the future I hope to break into the zoo design arena. Have the opportunity to combine architecture, landscape design, and environmental program requirements in a cohesive project. To blend the lines between human visitors and animal residents. To weave the circulation paths of animal, visitors, and zoo keepers. To weigh the sensitive balance of priority between animals and humans. To tackle the problem of creating a regionally distinct exhibit within a large uniform context.
I did not end up posting more articles concerning the concepts I discovered while preparing for this thesis, nor have I yet broken into the zoo design arena. It remains an area of strong interest for me however as the issues of sustainable design and responsible landscape for traditional buildings continue to weigh heavily on the consciousness of architects and planners. The paramount question that resonates in my mind as the singularly most controversial regarding the question of zoological design is that of priority:
Which user group should be given the most consideration when designing zoo exhibits, visitors, keepers, or animals? You could argue the animals, they are there longest. But what of the visitors, if the environment is not comfortable for visitors they will not come, then there will be no funding. And what of keepers, isn’t their safety and ability to treat and care for the animals the most important? It seems the correct response to this weighted question resides subjectively in the one responsible for the answer.
What is your opinion?