Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Zootopia will move visitors through animal habitats from three continents via three modes of mirrored transportation.
Bjarke Ingels Group, the architecture firm responsible for some of the most playful designs in the built environment, is getting serious about the animal kingdom. The firm is looking to design a zoo that makes for a less stressful experience for animals while still serving up a cohesive master plan—one that makes sense for gorillas, bears, lions, elephants, and tourists alike. Right now, the firm's solution is transit.
BIG just revealed new renderings for Zootopia, the firm's tentative expansion plan for the Givskud Zoo in Givskud, Denmark. The scheme features three loops, each focused on one of three continental themes: Africa, America, and Asia. Each loop will be designed around a different mode of transportation: Visitors will sail through Asia, bike through Africa, and fly through America.
Since a gondola lift isn't exactly the quietest way to travel through a natural habitat, BIG—in a characteristically simple solution to a design challenge—suggests covering the cable cars, with mirrors.
The plan for Zootopia involves shelters and paths that more closely resemble the habitats that animals know from the wild. The transit vision doesn't have too much to do with the continent it accommodates (there is nothing especially American about the gondola lift). The Asia loop will be designed to be accessed by mirrored boats, whereas the African loop is made for mirrored bicycles. Everything is mirrored in an attempt to soothe the animals.
Is mirrored transit very likely to trick the animals? That's hard to say, but that may not be the goal, exactly. A recent report in The New York Times suggests that animals who live in captivity suffer from a range of emotional problems stemming from their interactions with humans. Watch this video about Sukari (a giraffe who developed an eating disorder over its fear of large cameras) and Action (a harbor seal who felt squeamish about medical exams), and any effort to minimalize the intrusion of zoo visitors into zoo habitats seems worthwhile. The mirrored gondola may be an idea whose time has come.
The roughly 13-million-square-foot plan for Zootopia will no doubt undergo some revisions before it is realized. (Phase one is being planned for 2019, to celebrate the Givskud Zoo's 50th anniversary.) While these plans are merely preliminary, BIG plainly aims to push forward a more progressive vision of a zoo—one that goes beyond the construction of natural habitats to hiding the human footprint altogether.
Soft transit might be the right approach for a zoo for a number of reasons. While BIG's mirror-balls aren't the only way to get around the zoo—there's also a 2.5-mile hiking path connecting all three regions—these quiet, low-impact vehicles might help visitors feel closer to nature.
It might be BIG's goal to make people feel closer to transit as well. Just like with 8 House and many other designs by the firm, BIG puts transit at the heart of Zootopia, even if it's not transportation. Part of what makes the firm novel and important today is its ongoing effort to thread a focus on infrastructure and transit through almost every design, even the ones that don't depend on it.