About | Gallery | Service | Firms | Fun | Research

Zoo Design: Replication - Innovation - Evolution
Information management by www.zoolex.org

Monika Fiby
ZooLex Zoo Design Organization
Sobieskigasse 9/12, 1090 Vienna, Austria

Dirk Petzold
Zoo-AG Bielefeld
Haberstrasse 14, 33613 Bielefeld, Germany

In: Plowman A.B., Tonge S.J. (eds.), Innovation or Replication? Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on Zoo Design. Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, Paignton, 2005.


We propose that the common practice of replicating ideas from existing exhibits can be a cost effective way to create new exhibits and can also serve as a starting point for innovations in zoo design. However, purely copying the outer appearance of an exhibit often results in a loss in quality. Understanding the concept of an exhibit in its environment and adapting it in a meaningful way for another environment will result in improvements and yield an evolution in zoo design. Successful replication and innovation require information exchange about specific design solutions and also depend on working teams in design and construction. We analysed zoo exhibits to explore the factors which determine the quality of replications in exhibit design.

Images shown at the conference can be found on www.zoolex.org. ZooLex was initiated with the intention to help avoid the waste of time and money for reinventing the wheel. Our mission is to facilitate smart replications and innovative developments for your benefit. Using the ZooLex website is free. You are welcome to register for our free monthly email newsletter and to submit papers on zoo design and presentations of animal exhibits for publication in ZooLex to zoolex@zoolex.org.

Precious examples

zoolex.org index page
ZooLex services on www.zoolex.org
© ZooLex Zoo Design Organization, 2004

Why do zoo people travel so much? It's because they work in a complex environment that continuously changes. Success in such an environment depends on information on new developments and procedures as well as cooperation.

The ZooLex Zoo Design Organization strives towards promoting both - information and cooperation. The ZooLex website and database were created to facilitate information management in the field of zoo design. By 2003, fifty exhibit presentations from thirty-five zoos from eight countries were published in the ZooLex Gallery. Longevity and accessibility of the ZooLex Gallery are assured by an archive with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Smart innovations travel the world

Lemur-proof bridge at Zoo Munster
Lemur-proof bridge at Zoo Münster
© Matzke, 1998

Lemurs at Zoo Münster are kept on an island that visitors can reach by crossing a bridge. This bridge is made from metal grating and its rails have hot wire embedded in them. Power is turned on only at night or occasionally when the exhibit is closed . Lemurs tend not to walk on metal grating and remain accustomed to not touching the bridge when they have learned about the hot wire.

This image was published in the ZooLex Gallery in February 2004 thanks to Zoo Münster. With 5000 viewers visiting the ZooLex website each month, the concept of the bridge quickly became widely known. A week upon publication in ZooLex, an American zoo designer told us that he is going to apply the concept. The concept of a lemur-proof bridge was not knew when Zoo Münster applied it, but it is a successful replication.

Is ZooLex feeding copycats? No - we only publish in accordance with copyright owners and institutions hosting a given exhibit to be presented. This is particularly important for site plans, drawings and behind the scenes images. Yes - we spread information among zoos - just as we do right here, but much faster and without the need of travelling. But - looking at an image or visiting a zoo is not all that is needed for a successful replication. Only adopting the underlying concept of a design solution will result in good copies as well as in innovations.

While the concept of a lemur-proof bridge travelled the world in just a few minutes over the internet, Hagenbeck travelled with his panoramas for 20 years before they became a trend.

Different styles

Polar bear, sea lion and ibex exhibit at Wuppertal Zoo today
Polar bear, sea lion and ibex exhibit at Wuppertal Zoo today.
© Petzold, 1996

Hagenbeck's influence can be traced through zoos around the world. In most cases however, the original concept was not replicated in its important aspects sightlines and invisible barriers but reduced to backdrop sceneries made from artificial rock. At Zoo Wuppertal the panorama of Hagenbeck's arctic exhibit was accurately replicated in 1910. The exhibit for polar bears in the back looked like a continuation of the foreground exhibit for seals, towered by an ibex rock. Unfortunatly, renovation on these three exhibits was done in different styles. Thus, the effect of seamlessness is lost.

There are many reasons why an exhibit that was inspired by another one looks different from the original. Money can be a reason that some of the complexity or beauty of a design solution is not fully replicated in another design. Institutions' policies or directors' personal style preferences can be other reasons for variations.

Evolution: Teams for complex tasks

This series of images illustrates the evolution of gibbon exhibits. The zoologist's replication of the gibbon habitat primarily respected animal needs. This exhibit is clearly structured for gibbons' needs. It does not look natural but encourages gibbons to move about. The designer's replication may look more appealing to some, however it is not attractive for gibbons. The poles are fixed in unsuitable angles and too thick for gibbon grip. There is only a limited number of elevated seating and the ropes are only set horizontally. The designer's perspective obviously did not include enrichment and education considerations. The next example is an exhibit resulting from team work between zoologists and designers. This gibbon island has real trees on it, but the gunite trees still look strange. They are situated along the path so that visitors can observe the gibbons brachiating. The final example is an exhibit which looks very natural. It was designed with a landscape architect and horticulturist on board. Climbing is improved by ropes which are used to look like vines. Visitors cannot only can see active animals in trees but also get an impression of the natural habitat of these animals.

The zoologist's replication of a gibbon habitat at Zoo Ostrava The designer's copy of the zoologist's replication at Zoo Barcelona

Top left: The zoologist's replication of a gibbon habitat at Zoo Ostrava, ©Petzold, 2003

Right side: The designer's copy of the zoologist's replication at Zoo Barcelona, ©Petzold, 2002

Middle left: Team work of zoologists and designers at Miami Metrozoo, ©Fiby, 2000

Bottom left: Team with horticulturist, Zoo Leipzig, ©Fiby, 2001

Team work of zoologists and designers at Miami Metrozoo
Team with horticulturist, Zoo Leipzig

The creation and maintenance of zoo exhibits which aim at fulfilling the various challenges of husbandry, design and interpretation, increasingly involve various specialists in conceptual planning, design, building, and evaluation. The shift from "the zoo director as planner" to "team-based planning" slowly happens (see COE 2001). ZooLex contributes to this process on various levels:

Animal management and construction techniques are rapidly evolving, and thus is the need for information management on zoo design. Email communication, news groups and internet research have become common practice in zoos. ZooLex has become the place for information on animal exhibit design on the internet. It serves a very diverse international community in an effective and inexpensive way. You are welcome to contact us if you are interested in participating in our collaborative effort to improve animal exhibit design:

ZooLex Zoo Design Organization
Sobieskigasse 9/12, 1090 Vienna, Austria
Phone/Fax: +43-1-3101060
Email: zoolex@zoolex.org


COE, Jon Charles (1987) What's the message? Exhibit design for education. AAZPA Northeastern Regional Conference Proceedings. American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. Wheeling, West Virginia.

COE, Jon Charles (2001) Master Planning and Design. Encyclopedia of the World's Zoos. Ed. Catherine G. Bell. Fitzroy Dearborn Publications. Chicago. p 793-799.

DITTRICH Lothar, RIEKE-MÜLLER Annelore (1998) Carl Hagenbeck (1844-1913). Peter Lang Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaften. Frankfurt a.M.

EBENHÖH (Fiby), Monika (2000) Improvements in Zoo Design by Internet-based Exchange of Expertise. Thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia. Athens, Georgia. Online available at http://www.zoolex.org/thesis/index.html.

MCGILL, Patricia, PILAND Ralph, VERNON Cynthia (1999) Planning for Capital Projects: Coalescing Product, Process, and Organization at Brookfield Zoo, Chicago. Chicago Zoological Society.

Revised 2017-05-17
About | Gallery | Service | Firms | Fun | Research