Wild animals and rare plants, unique landscapes and distant cultures – the expedition to the Islands, the fascinating island world of Southeast Asia, starts at Chester Zoo. A team of conservationists has left some traces on the Islands. Visitors continually encounter equipment, notebooks, sketches and observation posts, becoming part of the research team while on their journey. With a volume of 40 million GBP, Islands is the largest zoo development project in the history of British zoos and we were responsible for its planning. Our job was to develop a natural environment for the 74,500 m2 site that reflects the zoo’s commitment to global nature and wildlife conservation programs and lets visitors develop a relationship with the animals and their habitats, some of which are endangered. We created six authentic islands by faithful duplication of spatial arrangements, cultural elements as well as individually and specifically developed architectural styles for each island. Impressive views of the animals from unusal perspectives, including underwater views into the tiger’s and crocodile’s pool, the large Monsoon Forest show house and boat tour, transform a visit to the Islands into a unique experience.
Planning the Islands represented a challenge for us on a number of levels. Chester Zoo’s objective was for the new attraction to increase its appeal with visitors and extend visitor stays by 1.5 hours as well as strengthen the role of the off-season. In addition, creating the best conditions for the animals was a priority as well as communicating and bringing to life themes of biodiversity and nature conservation. Since opening in summer 2015, residents of the six islands of Panay, Papua, Bali, Sumatra, Sumba and Sulawesi include orang-utans, macaques, hornbills, Sumatran tigers, crocodile and others animals. All twenty-two species living in the immersive environments, some of which are part of Chester zoo’s actual conservation programs, have been situated based on their actual geographical habitats. Our storyline, which revolves around a team of conservationists and focuses on Southeast Asia, creates a direct link to Chester Zoo’s conservation programs. During their expedition on the Islands, visitors discover the uniqueness of this region’s flora and fauna and learn a lot about their fragility and their treasures. Visitors not only move around on foot, the Islands can also be explored on a 450 m long boat trip. Fourteen boats individually designed in a Southeast Asian style can accommodate 238 people at a time for fifteen minutes of animal watching and enjoying the magic of the Islands from a completely different perspective offering deceleration and a feeling of proximity to the animals. We designed and constructed a total of fourteen Indo-Pacific style structures as well as a variety of building types including stall facilities, visitor buildings, a boat station and several bridges all down to the smallest detail. We were also responsible for the aviaries, the climbing structures and the extensive modelling of the terrain. The Monsoon Forest represents a modern contrast and architectural highlight. The show house, stands out for its highly efficient form and function. Because only the roof is primarily visible from the outside, it blends seamlessly into the landscape. The roof’s airy ETFE-membrane also allows the transmission of UVA and UVB rays important, for both animals and plants. Awaiting visitors inside is a jungle pathway topography flooded in daylight, a biotope with paths leading through various levels of rainforest, where occasionally it actually does rain. This attractive leisure destination was awarded the INCA Award 2016.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Client: Chester Zoo
Services: Architecture and Landscape Architecture (RIBA A-F, artistic supervision), communication, F&B, retail
Planning time: 2011 – 2015
Construction period: 2013 – 2015
Overall planning area: 74.500 m2
Building foot print: 3.280 m2 (Monsoon Forest show house) 5.200 m2 total
Gross floor area: 5.248 m2 (Monsoon Forest show house) 7.790 m2 total
Gross volume: 28.819 m3 (Monsoon Forest show house)
Construction costs: 40 million GBP / approx. 55.8 million EUR
Copyright Rainforest Building: Chester Zoo