Case study: Zoo Atlanta

Posted on September 1, 2011

Zoo Atlanta has an interesting history, going from blight of the city to pride of the South East in a surprisingly short amount of time. It has pushed itself forward as one of the premiere attractions in Atlanta. However, a recent visit has convinced me that now may be the perfect time to push even further.

To back up a bit, 1984 was a low point. The site had been allowed to deteriorate over time due to general neglect, and because of the deplorable living conditions for the animals, the

zoo lost its accreditation and was named one of the ten worst zoos in the country. Since that time, Zoo Atlanta has made an massive turnaround, recreating itself from top to bottom, from highly trained staff and community involvement down to the physical design of the park. It became clear it was not enough to put animals on display with no concern for their emotional well-being. In 1986 the Zoo board commissioned Ursa International to design a master plan for the property with careful focus on new enclosures for the animals, ones that more nearly matched their natural habitats.

Major areas of the zoo

” The entryway. more pavilions and an entirely new area called KIDZone. an area of high traffic. and future expansion. turn right into the KIDZone. “Ok. I believe. The current layout looks like a backwards “P” with small paths and islands jutting out from its side. and over the years has expanded beyond its original plan to include more enclosures. the backwards “P” created a loop all the way around the park. Because of the organic nature of the additions to the park. all of which. Issues Orientation—Upon entering the zoo and walking into “Flamingo Plaza. This is problematic as it requires people just entering the park to make major decisions about how they would like to proceed before they have a chance to orient themselves. With all this expansion under its belt. Before the KIDZone expansion. come over here and look at the flamingos while mommy figures out where we need to go. can be solved with one move. is not the .” a person is met with a few choices: either turn left and head into the African Plains.Asian Forest: Pandas Ford African Rain Forest: Gorillas African Plains: Elephants KIDZone: Petting zoo & small rides Zoo Atlanta has won several awards for its habitats since completion in the late 1980s. navigation. A commonly heard phrase at Flamingo Plaza is. the zoo can now shift some focus back to its guests to help make the experience even more engaging. Zoo Atlanta outgrew itself and now faces issues of orientation. or go straight along a central spine running up the center of the property.

reserving them as destinations rather than entry points. allowing the anticipation to build as a guest moves through the park. Ideally it is best to hold back elements that draw large crowds. Navigation—When navigating certain areas of the park. Solutions . come over here and look at the flamingos while mommy figures out where we need to go. Any future expansion will likely mean a need to tear down the entrance and rebuild it elsewhere. or moves too quickly past to see what else the zoo has to offer. a person in the zoo will become frustrated (often with themselves) and mental fatigue will turn to physical fatigue. The opposite is also true. This is particularly problematic in the Asian Forest as winding pathways can give mixed signals. hurting the overall experience and reducing the likelihood of a repeat visit.” Following the flamingos. “Ok. many people tend to head in directions they shouldn’t—maintenance areas. in many cases the first animal encounter a person has at the Zoo is with the elephants. but it must always be clear that there is something to discover. This occurs because unclear or mismatched visual cues in the design of the park lead to incorrect interpretation. Instead. sounds and smells of big-ticket #1 and either spends too much time there. making any plans for expansion very limited. dead ends or simply places where they have already been—causing them to have to backtrack to get on the correct path.ideal stopping point for a family to try to get things moving. directly out and through the current entryway. Sometimes people can miss an entire area of the zoo simply because the pathway leading towards it was not distinct enough. both for that family and others trying to get going themselves. making things that immediately follow feel like a bit of a letdown. Discoverability is important. The only option for extending its borders is into the adjacent Grant Park. Expansion—Currently Zoo Atlanta is considering expansion. one of Zoo Atlanta’s three “big-ticket” attractions (the other two being gorillas and pandas). with the same process having to be repeated in the future should the zoo need to expand again. but is hemmed in on three sides by roads. a guest walks right into the sights. When this happens too many times.

By moving the entry point from the Northern edge of the zoo (shown on the bottom edge of the park on Zoo Atlanta maps) to a controlled path leading from the West directly into the center of the park towards a central plaza. 2011 Please read part one of this look at Zoo Atlanta In 1986. to ease navigation and create room for expansion? A simple change in perspective may be the answer… Case Study: Zoo Atlanta 2 Posted on September 2. Because of this. orientation. the park eventually outgrew itself and now faces problems in the areas of orientation. . With all of these issues. A simple change in perspective will help. guests are forced to think about the design of the environment rather than just moving from place to place and enjoying the zoo.So how do we solve these problems? What can we do to allow Zoo Atlanta’s story to unfold along a natural progression. and future expansion. navigation and expansion concerns are all addressed. navigation. Zoo Atlanta began to reinvent the idea of what a zoo could be and set out on a massive redesign.


Without the need to make major decisions. much simpler than the current one. . Creating a single path that controls sight lines and guides foot traffic towards a central hub allows the zoo to unfold in a much more organized fashion as visitors can be gradually introduced to the experience. used primarily for moving large groups in and out. is based on a path that offers guests things to do while keeping them focused on moving forward into the zoo. Making this the primary entrance would not be too much of a stretch.The proposed layout. The walkway leading towards the center of the zoo becomes a preshow. but Zoo Atlanta actually already has an entrance on its West side. guests can move forward gradually. Solutions Orientation—Altering the entryway and refocusing so that it does a better job orienting newly arrived guests to Zoo Atlanta solves many problems. Designers can use the proposed Interactive areas to direct traffic so that a day at the zoo effectively begins at the center of the park rather than at the edge of it. The idea of creating an entirely new entry point for the zoo might seem easier said than done. becoming acclimated to their environment so they can delay decision making until they are both mentally ready and are in the best physical place to do so. gradually getting guests ready for the day.

the zoo would be free to use its one flexible border to grow as needed. they would be replaced by something far more useful. particularly the KIDZone. With the entryway reoriented. I wrote the first two. — You might notice that the proposed layout displaces a few things. navigation becomes much easier. That was the plan. guests would have a clear view of the distinct areas of the park. The various areas are relatively well themed. it would evolve. and while these might need to go. The area would not be replaced. but I decided to leave the file sizes a little bigger than usual in case you’d like to click and see the renderings a bit larger. Those already familiar with Zoo Atlanta know that the “spine” currently splitting the park is elevated about 15 feet above the KIDZone area. Using clear visual cues it becomes obvious what a guest can find in each of the three directions they can proceed. Better late than never though. a place for petting zoo animals. 2012 Please read Case Study: Zoo Atlanta and Case Study: Zoo Atlanta 2 A long time ago I began a case study of Zoo Atlanta. right? Note: this post is image heavy. KIDZone in its current form has a few kiddie rides which are generally of low quality. Zoo Atlanta is hemmed in on three sides by roads. is part three. Expansion—As stated in the previous post. but…well…the fact is…I kinda forgot all about the third. . exotics and others suited for up close viewing. The plan was to write a three part post. at long last.Navigation—Once a guest has moved into the center of the park. so being able to see glimpses into all three from the same location would help create clear navigational checkpoints. So here. and spectacular… Case Study: Zoo Atlanta 3 Posted on September 13. The path leading up to the central plaza would act as excellent touch points. aiding in future understanding of how the park works as a unit. If the central plaza includes a way to move people up to this level (more on that later). Oops.

Zoo Atlanta gave the real Willie B. a more fitting habitat. . is the personification of Zoo Atlanta’s history. Zoo Atlanta has a life-sized sculpture of its most famous past resident—a gorilla named Willie B—that it commissioned after his death in 2000. One way to do that comfortably (change is always hard) is by honoring the past. it may be time to do the same with the statue. however the sculpture of this proud silverback gorilla. This gorilla’s story. The zoo must change in order to move forward. This change to the layout would aid in guest orientation and navigation while allowing the zoo more flexibility to expand in the future. I feel Zoo Atlanta would benefit greatly from a new entryway that funnels guests into the center of the zoo.Without going into too much detail (please see part 1 and part 2 for that). currently sits on the ground near a bathroom. It is fitting that he remains in the zoo in some way. going from sad living conditions to finally getting the beautiful enclosure he deserved. this symbol of Zoo Atlanta’s resurgence.

or maybe in the central courtyard created by the new layout. the statue is just the bronze gorilla. however an elevated. There are many ways to use a statue like this. natural platform themed to the gorilla habitat would add prominence. .In its current form. Perhaps it could find a home in a new entry plaza.

.It could be a good idea to create similar sculptures to represent the two other “big ticket” animals in the zoo—the pandas and the elephants.


This would essentially create non-verbal signage. “What’s down that way? Oh…the pandas!” . Another use for them could be to place the individual statues down the paths coming off the central hub leading to their respective areas.All three could stand together in a grouping like bronze mascots acting as “elder statesmen” of the zoo.

but rather reorganized along the new walkway into a more linear experience. One thing the zoo lacks is a prominent. It is important that all of this placemaking occurs before guests reach the center of the zoo. I gotta see what’s going on over there. It needs something that guests can see from far away that makes them say. sounds. What is it that draws people down this central walkway? The knowledge that there are more animals? Yes. In the proposed layout.Before guests have the chance to follow these paths. Guests must be in the right mindset to properly make choices about where they would like to go so they can experience the zoo to the fullest. perhaps a chance to see what life is like through the eyes of your favorite animal or even the start of a mobile scavenger hunt… Guests of all ages could gradually become accustomed to their new surroundings as they leave their world behind and go deeper into a new one. physical draw to pull people into the park (or a weenie in Disney-speak). the new central walkway that leads guests into the center of the park cuts directly through the “up-close” animal exhibits. smells. but it helps to give people a push…or maybe a pull. such as the exotic birds and the petting zoo. they must get to them. This walkway could offer sights. the gateway to adventure. In the new layout. These exhibits would not be lost. the center of Zoo Atlanta would become the decision point.” . “Ok.

particularly around what our friend in the lower left corner is looking at through his binoculars… .This fanciful vista could be the new embodiment of what it means to experience Zoo Atlanta. It’s a place to become fully immersed and truly go wild.

With the flamingo plaza moved to its base.Maybe it’s a little over the top. rope bridges and secret passageways. the old KIDZone is disrupted by the new walkway. but an addition like this would be the perfect place to play. This new symbol for Zoo Atlanta says come see and explore. the treehouse could contain all the things every kid (and every kid who just happens to be old) would want—vines for climbing and swinging. This says adventure. Yes. even monkey-powered elevators… . but I would love to see Zoo Atlanta have a treehouse.


Ok…maybe not monkey-powered elevators. but I hear elephants are pretty industrious. .

.A long time ago I created a logo set and a mock ad for the zoo to help get me in the right mindset. The idea of going into the wild begs us to leave our ordered world behind and come be a part of something special.

and my wife and I would have a new place to throw on our backpacks. I’m not affiliated with Zoo Atlanta in any way. go explore and go wild. but I am someone who likes to let his mind wander. I would love to see a great place become even greater. Zoo Atlanta could become the destination for people traveling to the area.No. people would come together. Kids could play. and I think that the same courage and commitment that it took to get the zoo to where it is today could push it to where it could be tomorrow. .

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