How to Create Authentic Zoo Experiences
Interview with Kieran Stanley, Founder and CEO, Creative Director, dan pearlman Erlebnisarchitektur GmbH
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF ZOOS TODAY?
The historical evolution of the zoo is well documented. From its early aristocratic beginnings as the menagerie to the full-scale, cultural-landscape immersive environments of today, this history encompasses a multitude of styles and design approaches that reflect a fundamental shift in the role of the zoo and its function in society. I could expound at length on this evolutionary history and the progression of its various design styles, of the relationships between historicism, themed architecture, taxonomy and systematics to the emergence of habitat immersion, ride-attractions, and conservation, etc. But my interest here is not in rehashing this history but in laying out an argument for where zoos are headed. I believe zoos will continue to evolve but will always serve a critical role for society: as places where people meet animals face-to-face and fall in love with wildlife.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF ZOO DESIGNERS?
Zoo designers have taken to heart the four main tasks that define contemporary zookeeping: education, conservation, research and science, and leisure activities. That being the case, what else is relevant for anticipating the changes in the years ahead? It can be assumed that future zoos will be more selective in their animal collections, choosing species suited to the climatic conditions, staff expertise and the individual zoo’s conservation mission. This means larger and more flexible exhibits, educational interaction etc. But despite this evolutionary path within the industry as a whole, each zoo must still seek out its own unique identity. Zoo design has less to do with design itself, and moreover it has a role to play in the understanding and consequent implementation of the strategic development.
WHAT IS CRUCIAL FOR THE FUTURE SUCCESS OF ZOOS?
If a zoo is to continue to stay relevant, the most important question it can ask is: How can I develop a unique strategy that takes into account and exploits the aspects I have to offer? The key to any zoo’s future success lies in coming up with a tailor-made approach that draws from one or more of the following strategic options: cooperation, diversification, reinterpretation, reinvention, repositioning or being virtual. In addition, the future success of zoos will be contingent upon adopting and living by strong values. We can implement and take all of the above points to heart but the main priority is still to be authentic, to live according to values, to do good work and to effectively communicate this to the public. This means being transparent about the work you’re doing and demonstrating to people that animal welfare is your highest concern. But above all be inspiring by offering a change in perspective: try to inspire your visitors by shifting their points of view and bringing them into the center of the action. As I like to say, if knowledge is a bank and imagination the currency, the ultimate future investment is experience!