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Fabric provides shade at Arizona zoo

Case Studies, Exteriors, Features | September 1, 2011 | By:

An Arizona zoo embraces the landscape; a fabric shade structure is key to its reinvigorated success

At Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo, the entryway was redeveloped in 2003 to enhance facilities, demonstrate “green” building considerations and create a more significant identity for the zoo. The remodeled facilities building—arcing in plan from east to west—houses a gift shop, ticketing operations and restrooms. From its beginning in 1967, Reid Park Zoo was founded on the concept of naturalistic animal venues within a 7-hectare campus. Burns Wald-Hopkins Shambach (BWS) Architects’ Zoo Master Plan emphasis on sustainable landscapes is in line with the zoo’s origins. The remodeling of the entryway is Phase 1 of the masterplan implementation.

Marking the zoo’s entryway is a tall tensile membrane structure that provides an overhang above the south edge of the narrow facilities building. The largest area of the membrane extends to the northeast creating an inviting entry and the most comfortable outdoor area facing the primary visitor approach. This also shades the area adjacent to the ticket windows and extends the shaded area in the afternoon in tandem with the increase in zoo visitors.

While the primary upward curvature of the membrane—designed by tensile structure consultant R. Larry Medlin—is oriented toward this approach, the downward surface curvature is highest in the east-southeast and slopes downward to its lowest point on the west-northwest where about 70% of the rainwater that falls on the membrane roof is drained into a cistern. The ticket building roof also slopes in this direction, draining in a downspout to a landscaped bed near the cistern. These combined sources of water have generated and sustained a dense lateral and overhead desert landscape on the northwest side of the entry area, which screens the most intense later afternoon summer sun.

The zoo entry and nearby Edith Ball Adaptive Recreation Center (also featuring a central tensile fabric structure designed by BWS with Medlin) are located in close proximity to each other in Tucson’s Reid Park within the same redeveloped site and landscape plan area. Both are indirectly illuminated at night and loom large, glowing like gigantic Chinese lanterns within the park, both frequently used for evening activities and events. During the year-end holiday season, the zoo is open and illuminated in the evenings for a “zoo lights” celebration. Images are projected onto the tensile membrane that serves as a marquee for this event.

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