From the architects:
The African Savannah Precinct Project is at the heart of Taronga’s renewal Masterplan, re-housing many of the Zoo’s key exhibits.
Informed by the Taronga vision, “Securing a Shared Future for Wildlife and People”, the project strengthens the educational and conservation role of the Zoo, engaging audiences in a deeply meaningful way, reinforcing Taronga’s contribution to conservation, science and education and enhancing the quality of the visitor experience.
The project occupies a large site on the north-western slopes of the Zoo, linking directly to the main circulation spine and adjoining the new Centenary Theatre. The African Savannah Precinct to the west is the habitat of the Giraffe, Zebra, Lion, Ostrich, Meerkat and Fennec Fox with new back of house facilities and exhibits.
An “African Waterhole” visitor facility area links the Savannah areas with an African Congo Exhibit to be constructed as a second stage to the east.
The Precinct is organised as a series of coordinated landscapes specific to each species, with incidental, framed and curated views displaying the animals through panoramic vistas contrasted with close-up encounters. The exhibits provide a maximum of free-range habitat on this tight Sydney site, whilst conserving key heritage structures.
A family of complementary shelters, animal houses and exhibits with a consistent tectonic language create opportunities for unique viewing of each species, complementing the new, habitat-specific landscape.
Throughout, discrete service access and fully developed feed and night shelters complement the public face of the exhibits.
From a defined interpretive gateway facing the main north-south Taronga spine, a fully accessible circuit links all of the new exhibits. The first is the Giraffe and Zebra, where a lofty glulam-framed Giraffe barn re-contextualises the tall slender animals when viewed from ground level or the raised keeper talk amphitheatre, which opens via lifting doors to the main visitor pathway. The exhibit fences and balustrades are integrated into the landscape, creating a low-key barrier between viewer and animal. Incidental views of the Fennec Fox, Giraffe, Zebra and the iconic Sydney skyline are captured along the new path.
Downhill is the greatly expanded Lion exhibit, with a main keeper talk projecting into the enclosure, creating the perception that visitors are ‘within’ the animal’s landscape. Large 40mm thick glazed viewing windows provide nose-to-nose Lion encounter opportunities. A timber batten suspension floats above the stepped amphitheatre to provide a sense of protection and calm, as if underneath a Savannah Acacia. Further glimpse and panorama viewpoints are located along the visitor path.
The Zebra viewing shelter provides a new ‘uphill’ view of the exhibit, sheltered by a shingle roof that echoes traditional Kenyan huts. An oculus traces the day’s passing and projects light onto inlaid ‘bead’ motifs, designed by Taronga as cues to the ‘Beads for Wildlife’ sponsorship initiative. Smaller enclosures tailored to the Meerkats and Fennec Foxes follow between rammed earth walls.
At the close of the Savannah Precinct is a new focus - ‘Africa Place’, created from a maze of old service buildings, with visitor amenities and a kiosk sheltered by grand old trees. Visitors are invited by an open deck and seating to rest and contemplate at the waterhole’s edge, viewing the Giraffe without physical barriers, as if they are truly in Africa.