The Oregon Zoo Education Center is creating a regional center for environmental learning to excite and inspire the inner ecologist in visitors to create a diverse and resilient world. The central theme of ‘Small Things Matter’ guides the zoo’s 1.6 million annual visitors through interactive exhibits that demonstrate how an individual’s daily actions can make a difference in maintaining a healthy planet. The facility includes an interactive exhibit space, insect zoo, cafe, multi-purpose meeting space, classrooms, environmental science lab and a new zoo train station.
Situated to define a major orientation plaza at the western end of the zoo, the radiating curved forms of the twin exhibit and classroom buildings are an outgrowth of the site’s constrained geometry defined by a landing stage area, a railway from the zoo, a main footpath and the steep hillside that surrounds it. Inspired by the circular woven nature of a bird’s nest, the resulting organic architecture creates an interwoven relationship between interior and exterior spaces that blends into the landscape of the zoo and the animal exhibits. The expansive cantilevered entrance roof draws visitors into the lobby’s interactive displays, insect exhibit, and event space.
The NESt (Nature Exploration Station) interpretive space composed of woven wood and steel elements is inspired by the nests of small animals to create shelter and order in the environment. The design of the interpretive exhibit was an integrated process between the client, architects and interpretive design teams where content became the foundation of architectural form and expression. The interpretive exhibit features the stories of local conservationists and access to the insect zoo – the smallest of animals with some of the greatest impacts on the ecosystem. The Conservation Hall provides a major meeting space for Zoo community partners and is divisible into classrooms with direct access to Zoo exhibits.
The organic architecture of the education center creates an intertwined relationship between interior and exterior spaces that blends the built and natural environment. Outdoor and indoor spaces are intertwined with a corresponding visible and connected outdoor space for learning, interaction, imagination and play.
Honored with an AIA COTE Top Ten award, the LEED Platinum Education Center is a building that teaches, displaying innovative net-zero energy and sustainable design strategies such as the extensive rooftop photovoltaic array, rain gardens that clean water drains before reuse in toilets and birds. friendly lighting and sintered glass panes. As a hub of sustainable learning and exploration, the education center exemplifies the zoo’s mission to advance animal welfare, environmental literacy and conservation science within the community.