Architecture + Site design Studio
Colloquial understanding defines a zoo as an open space within a city or region that, while creating and preserving diverse natural habitats, showcases different animals for the human public. It is both a place for leisure and for animal research. When approached from a critical perspective, these differing purposes can be conceived of as a certain dichotomy, a play of opposing forces of equal importance that must be acknowledged. A zoo can be regarded as a champion for biodiversity, a safe haven where endangered animals can survive and thrive. But a zoo can also be understood as a set of animal prisons that submit animals to human will and entertainment.
An animal acquired by or born into a zoo is commodified: It ceases to exist as a living entity, and instead is conceived of as an asset that generates revenue and loss. While zoo animals may garner our affections and sympathy—even love—any connection between the human observer and nonhuman object is separated figuratively by a power dynamic, and literally by a tall fence or thick glass. Without connection to or interactions with other animals, the wretched zoo inhabitants’ spirits break. Man is not alone in being a social creature: all of the animal kingdom relies on interactions with other members in some form or another.
Furthermore, if a zoo closes down due to bankruptcy or other causes, the animals are then subject to an uncertain future. They are either sold or transferred (as a good) to a new owner, or are possibly euthanized. What gave homo sapiens not only the ability but also the desire to control their brothers of the animal kingdom in this way? In early human society, human beings related to other species by perceiving them as either sources of nourishment or danger, coexisting in a “live and let live” kind of way. Humans as animals lived and traveled in groups providing and protecting for their own kin like a set of different transient communities. A single species or animal can’t thrive in nature; it needs the organized chaos of the different symbiotic relationships between diverse organisms to subsist.
I’m not advocating for the disappearance of zoos. Zoos allow us to witness wildlife as we otherwise could not, and learn about our connection to the animal kingdom. But what if zoos where to become the only way for humans to experience,
appreciate and preserve animals and bio-diversity on the planet? Global warming is a scientific fact and its consequences are upon us: Each year new species become endangered. The WWF estimates that the world has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years. We have yet to witness how bad things could conceivably get—perhaps all wildlife will be endangered at some point in the near future. So it is our responsibility to maintain the biodiversity if we wish to preserve the planet as we know it. This needs to be done not by enclosing animals but by living among them once again. Shifting our relationship with wildlife and thus redefining zoos and their whole purpose within human society.
The animal chosen to develop this concept around was the wolf. The building program was centered around animal research labs and housing for scientists and veterinarian professionals. Another public program was also incorporated within the building in the form of areas of display. Within these interior spaces visitors are able to appreciate the animals in their natural state.
Wolves can travel up to 50 miles per day. They can survive on their own but they can only thrive in packs. This behavioural trait of the animal drove my approach to the design of the grading. By making the topography simulate hills, the animal is expected to exercise continuously through its time in the habitat. Additionally this grading design would help to further isolate the animal from the urban environment.
Location: Boston, MA
Kyle Sturgeon AIA
Spring 2015 /Architectural Studio 3/ Boston Architectural College