How do you get people on board with conservation efforts without compromising entertainment value or aesthetic beauty? According to Tanner Kibble Denton (TKD) Architects, the answer involves a 160-seat theatre, a giraffe enclosure, and surround sound.

TKD Architects’ new theatre for Sydney’s Taronga Zoo has officially been completed. Overlooking the zoo’s giraffe enclosure as well as the city’s spectacular harbour, the theatre represents views galore and education overload. Of course, the building itself is striking in its own right.

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The purpose of the 160-capacity Taronga Zoo Centenary Theatre is to provide a fully immersive animal experience for visitors. Education is at the top of the zoo’s priority list for the new facility, and this is achieved through the extensive incorporation of technology.

Inside the theatre, visitors are greeted by a 25-metre-wide wrap-around screen, the scale of which is set on balance by equally big sound. When shows are on, patrons will be fully immersed by multi-sensory attractions that aim to “positively [influence] visitors’ personal and emotional connection to animals and the work of Taronga Conservation Society Australia”. So as not to disturb passing visitors and animals at the zoo, the Centenary Theatre has been fully-insulated and sound-proofed.

“The theatre provides a remarkable architectural statement at a pivotal position in the Zoo. The new building is memorable; both strikingly visual on its site and all-immersive in its experience offered to visitors,” says Alex Kibble, project director and managing director at TKD.

“A refined addition, it demonstrates the Zoo's cultural and environmental commitment to future generations.”

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Externally, the Centenary Theatre is all about respectful and sustainable architecture. The foundation of the building consists of a reinforced concrete basement with exposed concrete floors, soffit and tapered concrete V-shaped columns.

On this concrete base sits a structure of light-weight steel, clad with timber and fibre cement rain screens. Suspended timber battens have been applied to the harbour-facing elevation of the fa├žade, which zinc has been used for the overhanging eaves. “Its malleability [is] crucial for the complex geometrical design,” reads the TKD design statement.

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“The positioning of the theatre perfectly utilises the topography of the site,” says Andrew Chippindall, another of the project managers for Taronga Zoo Centenary Theatre.

“The design of the entrance ramp to the precinct leads to a lookout which takes advantage of the superb view beyond, before leading down to a preshow area. This ramp is an entity in itself, providing a shaded seating area which will be most welcome in summer and busy times.

“The pre-show plaza is another contained space, purposefully building anticipation just outside the theatre’s main entrance. When approaching the theatre from below, the structural V pillars allow the theatre to float within the landscape. Whilst the scale of the building is large, this provides an organic element to the mass of the concrete above.”

The sympathetic design uses materials that are intended to enhance the existing aesthetic character of the zoo. For instance, honed concrete, timber weatherboard and timber batten cladding, steel plate cladding, and panels of textured fibre cement are in high supply, setting off the raw characteristics of the zoo’s landscape.

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“TKD Architects selected a considered palette of materials, including blackbutt timber batons, off-white aggregate exposed concrete paths and grey masonry cladding allowing the grand scale of the building to recede into the verdant landscape most effectively,” explains Chippindall.

“TKD [has] worked hard to honour and respect the TZG concept, maintaining the design parameters which had been established. We extended the vision, through careful detailing and design resolution,” adds Kibble. “[While] the project had a number of complex considerations – including the geometry of the building, acoustic performance, coastal environment and site topography – the completed building and its setting is not dominated by that complexity.”