He’s designed apartment blocks in the shape of mountains and a power station with a ski-slope on the roof. He’s made museums that erupt from the ground with cartoonish glee, and proposed a viewing tower like a gigantic spiralling lollipop. Now the Danish architectural wunderkind, Bjarke Ingels, has reinvented the zoo – by making humans the ones that are captive.
His plan for the Givskud “Zootopia”, a 1960s zoological park in southern Denmark, is a world where animals roam free, liberated from cages and tanks, while visitors observe them hidden from view, buried beneath the ground or obscured inside piles of logs. It is like a live Truman Show for animals, a 300-acre stage set wilderness in which the roaming beasts should never even know you are there, carefully concealed behind the scenes.
“Architects’ greatest and most important task is to … make sure that our cities offer a generous framework for different people – from different backgrounds, economy, gender, culture, education and age – so they can live together in harmony,” says the Bjarke Ingels Group, aka BIG. “Nowhere is this challenge more acrimonious than in a zoo.”
The architects propose to reduce the acrimony by banishing the human captors beneath the carpet – in some cases quite literally. Visitors will be able to observe lions from a bunker buried beneath a hill and peep at pandas through a bamboo screen. They will look at bears from a little house hidden in a stack of tree-trunks, and gawp at giraffes through holes cut into a hillside.
“Instead of copying the architecture from the various continents by doing vernacular architecture, we propose to integrate and hide the buildings as much as possible in the landscape,” say the architects – keen to avoid the usual Disneyish approach of Sumatran temples to see the tigers and Chinese pagodas to view the pandas, by doing away with buildings all together.
The scheme also flips the traditional model of endless swaths of public concourse surrounding mean little enclosures. Instead, it will channel visitors into a central circular piazza, conceived as a sort of a base camp, from which they then venture into the wilds, exploring the three themed continents along snaking routes. Floating along a winding river through Asia, cycling across the African savannah, or flying above America, visitors will be housed in little mirrored pods, under the slightly strange assumption that animals won’t be able to see shiny metallic blobs trundling through their territories.
Looking at the renderings, it is all too tempting to imagine it ending up like a feral version of the Hunger Games, as elephants eye up the shiny capsules for a game of throw and catch between their trunks, while monkeys make mischief with the cable-car. But the architects have a higher goal, that by liberating the beasts, we might learn from their ways. “Who knows,” say BIG, “perhaps a rhino can teach us something about how we live – or could live in the future?” They could surely also do that by being left alone in the wild. But as long as zoos continue to exist, BIG’s model shows how architects can help them improve, by barely being there at all.
Learn more here http://big.dk/#projects-zoo