Premier Construction South West

Designing for the zoos of tomorrow

Marwell Zoo
Written by Roma Publications

Marwell Zoo

Building the UK’s future zoos requires a knowledge and respect for conservation and animal welfare and the ability to challenge the accepted relationship between the landscape and the building, according to masterplanning consultants Terence O’Rourke.

Only a few weeks into opening, the new ‘Wild Explorers’ exhibit at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire has proved a roaring success. Thousands of visitors have already experienced the African wilderness first hand without the need to get on a plane, as Marwell welcomes the first budding park rangers, young and old, to its new immersive wildlife experience.

London and Bournemouth-based consultants Terence O’Rourke were challenged to design the Wild Explorers landscape from the offset, never losing sight of the key messages of wildlife conservation, giving visitors the best and most memorable African wildlife adventure here in the UK.

Marwell Wild Explorers is the home to three iconic and endangered species – white rhinos, scimitar-horned oryx and Grevy’s zebra. All have been hunted to near extinction in their natural homelands of Africa. Visitors are invited to glimpse the zoo’s involvement in the research, protection and where necessary, reintroduction of these species into key protected areas in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tunisia.

Marwell Zoo

Back in the UK, Terence O’Rourke was briefed to design a naturalised environment where these species could thrive together, while still allowing visitors the opportunity to feel as close as possible, as if they too were part of the African wilderness. Working with the clients, the team had an integrated, ethical approach to the project, headed by Terence O’Rourke’s creative design team of architects and landscape architects.

Three distinctive animal houses with skewed metal roofs and horn-like louvred peaks provide passive high level ventilation, linked by two undercover visitor areas. These give the visitor a preview of the wildlife visible from the dramatic boardwalk which is elevated over an animal watering hole and ‘crashed’ lorry replica on the waters’ edge.

On being asked how to even begin designing an exhibit of this magnitude within the confines of the South Downs National Park, Gary Coulson who lead the project, said that there were many challenges to overcome but that the team’s natural affinity with Marwell Wildlife’s ethos of ‘doing the right thing’ made the experience all the more exciting.

Marwell Zoo

“We needed to understand the behavioural characteristics of these species before we could contemplate designing a single fence or wall. We used the natural characteristics of the land to design a setting for the exhibit, ensuring any buildings were right for Marwell’s educational and conservation requirements as well as compliant with local and national planning and National Park regulations. The landscape had to mimic the African wilderness as closely as possible without disregarding Marwell’s strong ecological beliefs. A series of complex landscape techniques were employed to enhance the setting and promote an emotional connection between the visitors and the wildlife. Natural land levels were manipulated to create a feeling of closeness without challenging the animals’ own environment.”

Gary also commented on the ecological use of materials throughout the project.

“All the materials used are sustainable and renewable energy is provided by photovoltaic cells on the roof. There is also rainwater storage from the roof, allowing for a recycled water system to irrigate and feed the water pool. The whole exhibit, which is the largest in Marwell’s history, is a living breathing testament to the zoo’s dedication to biodiversity and animal conservation.”

Marwell Zoo

Now home to two white rhinos, six zebras and eleven oryx, the £3.6 million Wild Explorers exhibit is spread across four hectares of land and is viewed to greatest effect from the raised observation boardwalk, installed high above the wildlife wilderness beneath. The exhibit is designed to show how these species would be studied and observed in the wild, and offers unrestricted views and ‘spy in the grass’ cameras to capture every moment of the inhabitants’ lives and interaction with each other. A discovery zone, where visitors can learn more about the tracking and identification of these animals in the wild, is also part of the Wild Explorers experience, along with covered areas for exhibitions and education sessions, perhaps offering shelter more from the British summer than searing African sun!

Wild Explorers will ensure that for years to come, Marwell Wildlife, while continuing to be a leading UK zoo with a special interest in the conservation of a range of endangered African animals, is also one of the leading visitor attractions in the southeast.

Marwell Zoo

Apart from Marwell Wildlife, Terence O’Rourke has also assisted Bristol Zoo and Knowsley Safari Park in recent years as well as several leisure attractions and facilities throughout the UK.

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