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Argentina zoo gets all meshed up

Features, Landscapes | July 1, 2011 | By:

Webmesh solutions for a stunning new bird exhibit in Argentina

Over the centuries, zoos have evolved from private collections of exotic animals to powerful advocates for species conservation and environmental education. Located outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Parque Temaikèn is one of the most progressive zoos in Latin America. Like many of today’s environmental centers, Temaikèn fosters a love of nature by bringing visitors face to face with it. To achieve this intimacy, the animals need to be as free to roam as their human counterparts.

In 2004, Temaikèn began to redesign its bird exhibits with “immersion enclosures” that could bring visitors close to plants and birds in a seamless connection with the sky, a planned onsite lake and the changing weather. Yet with the need for animal containment and the need to keep out predators, the challenge, common to zoo designers everywhere, was to find a way to exhibit birds without creating a sense of confinement.

Jakob® Inox, the venerable Swiss manufacturer of cable and netting systems, offers a webnet rope and mesh product system that is proving an ideal solution for contemporary zoos. Because of its transparency, flexibility and ability to cover large volumes, Jakob’s Inox Line Webnet product is now part of aviary construction at zoos in cities such as Dublin, Ireland; Geneva and Bern, Switzerland; Kraków, Poland and Hannover, Germany. Temaikèn’s new 2.4-hectare exhibit, “The Bird’s Place,” showcases 200 species of birds and associated plant species in four main aviaries tailored for the Americas, Eurasia, Oceana and Africa.

For each region, the exhibit’s designers selected bird species based on their habitat strata including: terrestrial, aquatic, bush birds and treetop nesters. The height of the netting and arches facilitates these layered habitats so the exhibit achieves a diversity rarely achieved in contained settings. The soaring Americas Aviary showcases 30 species of birds including the endangered Vinaceous-Breasted Amazon parrot (Amazona vinacea) in a space of roughly 11,300m3.

Representing Eurasia, Oceana and Africa, the Great Aviary is a linear structure supported by three arches with a 12m height. Each region is represented in areas of roughly 900m2. In studying the patterns of bird flight at the higher strata, the designers widened the arches at the top of the aviaries, swaying them outward to allow more range. While these flowing arcs make a sculptural statement when approaching the aviary, the netting stretched between them is virtually invisible. The overall effect is the lightness of a veil and not a cage.

Only 1mm thick and strung in a 30mm diamond pattern, the Webnet mesh breaks down the visual barriers between inside and outside. Visitors move freely in the pavilions with the sense that both they and the wildlife are outdoors in a nature preserve or hiking trail. But of course, birds and human visitors meet in a much more contained space where the zoo designer’s skills of forced perspective, controlled vistas and unfolding views evoke whole ecosystems at the scale of an urban park. To accommodate smaller birds, the designers created smaller passerines, webbed enclosures set alongside visitor paths.

The Foundation does more than just operate this bio-park. On a broader scale, it operates the Natural Reserve in the Argentinean Province of Misiones. This habitat area works as a “biological shock absorber” for the nearby Teyú Cuaré Provincial Park. The Foundation also runs extensive education and research programs along with a Center for Reproduction of Species that operates animal rehabilitation and reproduction programs, supporting both species conservation and the work of authorities governing the illegal trafficking of animals.

Since opening in the summer of 2009, The Place of Birds has attracted more than half a million visitors and received high rankings in visitor satisfaction surveys. In 2010, the project won an exhibit award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an international organization that oversees member accreditation, conservation and management.

It is appropriate that this new exhibit should happen at Temaikèn—a foundation dedicated to preserving not just Argentinean ecosystems, but also the deep understanding of them held by native cultures. Temaikèn is actually a combination of two Tehuelche words, tem (meaning “earth”) and aiken (meaning “life”)—suggesting anew the intimate connections and respect that these indigenous communities held for living landscapes.

Frank Edgerton Martin is a contributing editor for Fabric Architecture who regularly writes about landscape design, campus and urban planning and sustainable landscape issues.

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