architecture : urban : visual culture

The Tip of the Iceberg - Sóstó Zoo

It's an ongoing debate whether zoos are morally acceptable, and if not, what type of construction could make them so. DEKON architectural office took its task very seriously and avoided reducing the animal's territory at all costs. For the visitors, though, the Sóstoo Zoo can still remain to be an educational and entertaining building.

Zoo of the Future

Displaying unhappy animals behind bars of cages is obsolete, per se. But if so, what is the real purpose of a zoo, is there a difference between a zoo and an animal park and how can the answer to a strict functional demand be a park, rather than a building?

According to the latest requirements a zoo has to educate, protect, nurture and research. A secondary but, from a financial point of view, a very important aspect is entertainment. This aspect shall not be neglected, since the first four goals are not feasible without proper financial backing, thus a sufficient number of visitors.

Bird's Eye View - architects: DEKON


In the course of developing the concept, we figured the first four functions have to meet operational requirements. These are given a location and a frame by the built environment. However, addressing and attracting visitors, maintaining their interest and establishing a comfortable environment has a deep impact on the architectural composition, since the goal is to make the time spent here a special experience. An experience that is food for thought, interactive, surprising and novel at the same time. It raises awareness through experience instead of classroom education.

The key word here is consciousness

In the process of establishing a conceptual framework, we rejected several versions that did not exactly meet the requirements we set up beforehand. Anything that had too big an impact on the natural environment and decreased the animals’ territory, had to be abandoned. If anything was too complicated or confusing, it had to go. If it could not be operated properly, it also had to go.

Then, at a certain point of planning, the question occurred: Who are we designing for? Who is at home and who is a guest? The zoo is home to animals but it is run by people. How can we conjure up an untouched patch of nature in a completely different climate? And how can it be exciting for visitors yet leave the animals living there undisturbed?

Arrival - architects: DEKON


The animals’ living environment in this zoo is natural – not artificially built. However, the design of an area of several thousand square meters has to meet numerous requirements that cannot be neglected. So the question arose how to make such a big building "disappear" and how to make it symbolic and exciting at the same time? What we need is:

Conscious environmental management.
Conscious environment protection.
Conscious guidance of the visitors.
Conscious shaping.
Conscious use of materials.

Finally, the recognition came: However hard we try, whatever angle we are looking at it from, the "cage" cannot be left out, due to safety reasons. But if so, is it possible to make it nice, interesting or appealing?

We gave it a try. After hiding the most important functions of the ice world under the ground, we simply reshaped the only thing with a bad connotation that was still necessary. From cages and fences, we made borders. Borders, that do not divide, but protect (on both sides). Borders, that prompt action. And last but not least borders, that make animals and people standing on the two sides equal. Because our goal is not to hold the animals captive but to protect them. We don’t want to put them to display but raise people’s awareness and make them popular, thus encouraging future generations to care.


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