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Designing a More Animal-Friendly Zoo

Author Nicholas Derenzo Illustration Jameson Simpson


As the game-changing 2013 documentary Blackfish made clear, animals in zoos and aquariums might not be as content as we once assumed. Sure, they’re fed a steady and balanced diet and face no predators or diseases. But enduring a near-constant stream of popcorn-tossing, glass-tapping, tantrum-throwing visitors can prove debilitatingly stressful for zoo-bound critters. To solve this life-in-a-fishbowl problem, Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has unveiled wildly inventive redesign plans for the Givskud Zoo, in Denmark’s Jutland region. The gist? Dubbed Zootopia, the plan turns the entire zoo-going experience on its head by essentially letting the animals roam free and confining the humans to the “cage,” as it were, cleverly hiding guests to minimize their impact on residents. While the project is still in the conceptual phase at this point, the Givskud Zoo is planning to unveil the earliest stages of the redesign in 2019 to coincide with its 50th anniversary. Here’s how BIG will keep the inhabitants of Givskud happy.


1. The 300-acre, open-plan design will be divided into three “continents”—Asia, Africa and the Americas—with animals from the same area able to roam and intermingle within the same habitat, free of traditional glass or barred cages. Guests enter the park through a crater-like central plaza, with holes in its sloping walls that allow access to various paths that connect viewing areas.

2. Camouflaged viewing platforms will be hidden behind ecosystem-appropriate features, such as piles of lumber in the bear habitat or bamboo boxes in the panda section. Other areas will incorporate invisible barriers, allowing guests to, say, stand in the same river as an elephant, thanks to ingenious manipulations of the depth of the river bed and a system of poles that keep man and beast at a safe distance at all times.

3. Visitors will interact with animals in non-invasive ways, much as they might on a safari or in a national park. In addition to a 2.5-mile trail, guests will explore by boat, overhead gondola or metallic bike pods—encapsulated by one-way mirrors—that allow you to look out on the animals without them even noticing you’re mere feet away.

One Response to “Designing a More Animal-Friendly Zoo”

  1. Linda Wolfe Says:
    January 6th, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Why have zoos at all? The mere notion of “zoos” is completely antiquated. In this day and age where just about everyone has access to the internet, people can study animals in their natural habitat instead of keeping them hostage with a life of imprisonment. For those nay-sayers who claim that people cannot possibly develop any connections or interest in animals without having to see them physically, I say, “What about the dinosaurs?” Children are fascinated with these creatures, although I highly doubt any have actually seen on in reality.

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