Zoo design – micro-landscapes and biodiverity

– the master plan of Sóstó Zoo (final thesis plan)

FEKETE Orsolya

(From previous issue No.38)

Designing a zoo primary means creating hygienic, safe, comfortable and diverse habitats for animals. At the same time zoo design focuses on an institutional garden, which functions as a walkable recreational spatial structure dedicated for the visitors by offering a harmonic, informative environment that provides livable experiences. Zoos are also sustainable nature conservation centers, led by scientific and ecological aims. These three most important principles mentioned above can be observed in the spatial structure and most important objectives of the zoos themselves. The structure of the visitor areas, the system of the maintenance areas and the system of the habitats are characterized by significantly different operating schemes. While the relations of these three designwise distinct spatial structures define the zoo experience and the operating system of the zoo, it is essential to analyze each spatial system by itself and also examine their harmony.

The most characteristic spatial and road structures in zoos

The most characteristic spatial and road structures in zoos

The most important objectives of the modern zoos are the conservation of biodiversity, to support green education and nature protection researches. From these aims, green education can be fostered the most by zoo design through making the message of zoos – the importance of preserving biodiversity – clear. Educational boards are not effective enough in this case. The complex mission of zoos can be credibly represented only by a coordinated unity of the displayed animals and their enclosures and only if the view of the enclosure shows unequivocal relation between the species and their natural habitats.

The significance of displaying enclosures that refers to the natural habitats of the species was first remarked in 1972 by the French botanist and writer, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. During observing the behavior of the animals he concluded that the natural habitat enforces their physical and mental health. This progressive zoo design principle – based on accurate observations – has been acknowledged only recently. In contrast to the proposal of the botanist, zoos attempt to evoke and not to recreate the natural habitat of the displayed animals. Several zoo design aspects need to be considered to create a convincingly natural environment. After the careful selection of the characteristic plant species – or their imitator species – the stratification of the habitats, the typical terrain formations and the applied materials can also refer to the essence of the particular landscape. Landscape “quotes” displayed in a single enclosure – appearing each independently – cannot create a credible connection between the animals and their natural habitats. The ideal extension of a development project is not an isolated enclosure, rather greater entities designed by the same design principals, where the same atmosphere can be created and where the displayed animals have common natural habitats. Therefore the aim of zoo design is not only designing well-functioning habitats, visitor and maintenance areas, but also blurring the borders of these spatial structures, in order to create unique microlandscapes on the project areas. To ensure the unity between these microlandscapes, the development of the zoo should be guided by a consciously directed plan that determines the future aims.

Master plan of Sóstó Zoo

The symbiosis between an animal and its habitat, the adventure of exploring nature can only evolve if the micro-scape – that identifies the exhibition – stretches out from the enclosure to the visitor areas and adjacent enclosures including all the areas dominated by the same design. The aim of the master plan is to coordinate spatial design, spatial organization, the open-space design and the plantation design regarding the scheduling of the developments in order to define the essential areas and extension of the microlandscapes and the enclosure-systems.

The first step of creating the concept is to define the nature conservation message of the institution. The thematic structure of the zoo is subordinated to this message and is transformed according to the existing elements, such as the road structure, systemization method and analysis of the infrastructure. The enclosures, the visitor areas, the maintenance areas and the related facilities of the zoo can change according to the master plan and its coherent subarea units.


Based on the analysis of the history, spatial structures, connections, architectural and natural values of the 35 hectare Sosto Zoo, the main conflicts of the zoo originate from three factors. Without a suitable master plan, the developments of the zoo, lead by current demands, were unbalanced regarding spatial and temporal distribution. Therefore, particular areas of the zoo have been developed according to several distinct thematic organization principles. In the lack of a unified thematic organization, the message of the zoo’s mission can easily get blurred, which can get the visitors confused by making the orientation difficult. The net-like system of the pathways and the unbalanced infrastructure sharpens this conflict. Even the longitudinal, axial paths are unfavorable. It encourages the visitors for continuous motion, and it doesn’t illuminate the significant visual connections. This is why visitors can observe each enclosure from only one point of view, and that only 'face' of the enclosure is revealed at the same moment, leaving less impression in the visitors.

Master plan

Solving all the spatial conflicts is not the aims of the master plan, it rather fosters a system based thinking, which makes the concept flexible to unexpected changes in the future. The two most significant parts of the master plan are the creation of a new, integrated thematic organization and the formation of a new hierarchic pathway system. The new thematic organization concept of the zoo – based on the analysis of the current status and possibilities – divides the zoo into 12 smaller subareas. Each subarea represents the natural habitat of the exhibited animals and and can be explored from the existing, but modified main road system.

Area units and thematic system of the master plan

Area units and thematic system of the master plan

Since the message of the zoo – the importance of preserving biodiversity – can be represented by endangered species in the most credible way, eight subareas represent biodiversity hot spots from the total of thirty-four hot spots worldwide (Sundaland – Indonesia, Malaysia; Himalaya; Madagascar; Mountains of Southwest China; Caribbean Islands, Guinean Forests of West Africa; Tropical Andes; Caucasus). These highly endangered natural habitats are characterized by outstanding biodiversity. Each subarea tells the story of the particular area by exhibiting the flora and the fauna and later unfolds what direct and indirect – that has an effect on their environment – factors endanger the given species. Therefore the 12 subareas clarify the importance of in-situ and ex-situ conservation.

/read the rest of this post in issue No.38/

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