Gorilla Kingdom, London Zoo

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Location: London Zoo, Regents Park

Client: The Zoological Society of London

Project Year: 2007

Cost: Over £2m

The ‘Gorilla Kingdom’ project is viewed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) as the most significant re-structuring of London Zoo for forty years. The scheme focuses on the wider zoo strategy of providing enlarged and enhanced animal enclosures and removing (where possible) bars, cages and the visually obtrusive barriers separating animals from visitors. The design evolved through a two year collaborative dialogue with the project team of in-house project advisors, animal experts, keepers and external consultants to create an immersive landscape and visitor attraction which will highlight the plight of western lowland gorillas and other native species of the African rainforests of the Congo, Rwanda and Gabon.

The design offers a series of viewpoints from which the visitor observes and is observed by the gorillas. These views unfold, around a promenade route following a moat that bounds the gorillas new paddock and culminating in the boardwalk structures. The form and detail design of this viewing enclosure evokes the culture and materials of the Gorilla’s natural habitat without the need for Disneyesque pastiche. The boardwalk itself is made from rich, red Ekki hardwood (recycled from railway sleepers) and the ceiling and walls are clad in Douglas Fir ply panels patterned with cut-out sections and stripes of paint inspired by the rhythmic Kuba fabric patterns traditionally made in the Congo and Rwandan regions - often making symbolic reference to ‘the ancestors’. The visitor boardwalk is separated from the gorillas by a glass wall given lateral support by the canopy columns. The columns are made from bamboo, again a material reference to the gorillas’ natural habitat and we believe the first use of structural bamboo in the United Kingdom.

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