Minnesota Zoo - Heart of the Zoo

The Heart of the Zoo Entry Renovation includes four main components:

-The renovation of the Zoo’s main entrance (to be fully transformed in the future to a student/group entry for the Zoo’s Environmental Education Center)
-The renovation of original offices into educational wing with new classrooms
-The renovation of the original indoor bird theater into a new Penguin Exhibit and integration of the penguins exhibit into classrooms
-The renovation of an abandoned whale tank into the new Bird Theater

While modest in scope, the renovation creates a significant transformation to the zoo entry experience and is the first phase in a much larger “Heart of the Zoo” plan. When faced with significant budgetary constraints, the design team defined a “phase one” that softens the architecture at the entry and introduces a new Penguin Exhibit and Bird theater that utilizes existing spaces and will work with the future Heart of the Zoo development.

Built 36 years ago, the Minnesota Zoo’s concrete architecture aligned with the concrete enclosures that typified exhibits of the era. Exhibit design today places greater emphasis on creating more natural and humane environments to the benefit of both animals and patrons. The renovation of the Zoo’s main entry interior, in what will eventually become its’ Environmental Education Center, is intended as an extension of the exterior, similar use of materials create a seamless transition. Further, FSC-certified wood cladding, the introduction of a green roof, and the use of sustainable materials throughout the space communicates the environmental stewardship key to the Zoo’s mission. An overall goal for the project was to create a more naturalistic, welcoming and interactive environment that benefits both animals and people, that works harmoniously with the existing context while supporting the new zoological exhibits.

From an exhibit standpoint, the team focused on two primary areas; a tiered existing indoor theater, a whale tank that had been sitting abandoned for 15 years. The sectional qualities of the theater and whale tank spaces were conducive to placing the new Penguin Exhibit in the existing theater location, and then creating a new theater in the abandoned whale tank. In all areas, the architecture disappears as much as possible to focus attention on the animal exhibits.

  • Type interior design, zoological design, education design

New bird theater

The Environmental Education Center Entry serves as the main entry during the phase one of the Heart of the Zoo project. In future development, this entry will be dedicated student groups. The size of the canopy is intended to address two primary issues; first, it offers shade during the summer months when visitor numbers are at their peak and lines can exceed a block in length; and secondly, it provides a protected staging area for large school groups to assemble prior to or after their visit to the zoo.

Architectural finishes are brought into the interior vestibule and lobby to create a seamless transition, large window spans brings in natural day lighting.

New penguin viewing exhibit

The charge from the client was to create an exhibit in which the focus would be on the animals, in essence to make the architecture disappear while creating a new environment that seems as though it has always been there

The penguin exhibit is adjacent to classrooms, one of which includes a potion of the exhibit. The aqua theme flooring and decor reinforce the seamless connection between exhibit and classroom.

cleaning the penguin exhibit