A new Australian habitat exhibit and eco-tourist facility – called the ‘Australia Habitat and Taronga Wildlife Retreat’ – has been approved for Sydney’s Taronga Zoo at an estimated cost of $44 million.
Today, the NSW Government announced the development, and revealed that Cox Architecture has been chosen to design both the accommodation and animal exhibition components.
“A core function of the zoo is to increase visitor understanding and change human behaviour to support to conservation and preservation of species,” reads an environmental assessment document for the project by the Taronga Conservation Society.
“Building upon the success of the Roar and Snore program, the applicant is seeking to expand the existing immersive accommodation by making such experiences accessible to more people. By expanding immersive experiences across Taronga Zoo, the applicant seeks to build upon the accomplishments of conservation initiatives, reach a wider audience, and integrate the immersive experience with Australian wildlife exhibits.”
The proposed design by Cox Architecture is made up of five connected accommodation ‘pods’, ranging between two and four storeys in height. These ‘pods’ will be connected by a series of open corridors to achieve a sense of openness and integration with the landscaping. To accommodate the needs of guests, a new four-storey kitchen and dining facility would be created as an addition to the existing Taronga Centre. A new guest lodge would include a house reception, bar, guest interaction facilities.
The proposed development sits on a relatively steep area of the Mosman site, which falls to the south and is covered by dense tree canopies and foliage. The proposed works have been designed to respond to the site’s topography and existing vegetation as well as to important heritage features that sit in and around the site. Finishes and materials for the eco-tourist facility have been specifically chosen to blend into the landscape, so that views of the site as seen from Sydney Harbour will not be impacted.
As well as a new platypus exhibit that will adjoin the guest house, the Taronga Wildlife Retreat will wrap around a wildlife sanctuary housing animals such as wallabies, echidnas, bandicoots, koalas and freshwater eels. The exhibit will allow interaction with Australian animals in their natural habitats, and foster understanding of the connections between Indigenous culture and the environment.
Along with Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Sydney’s Taronga Zoo attracts more than 1.7 million visitors each year. It is estimated that it injects $249 million into the NSW economy per annum.
Design Statement from Cox Architecture:
Taronga Wildlife Retreat The overriding architectural design intent of the Taronga Wildlife Retreat is to minimise the visual impact of the built forms and maximise the sense of a natural environment and ensure that the Australian wildlife exhibit is the predominant focus.
The Retreat is broken up into seven relatively small built forms. This fragmentation allows the buildings to wrap around a central exhibit, while responding to: the fall across the site; major trees; and existing buildings and exhibit enclosures.
The outlook towards the harbour from the Taronga Centre, and also other areas further up the hill, is highly valued, and the proposed low scale and façade treatment of the proposed new buildings will minimise impact.
The accommodation pods include native planted “Green Screens” covering their northern facades and wrapping up over their roofs to effectively camouflage the buildings and preserve the outlook to the harbour. These screens shelter the open air access walkways connecting to the rooms while providing glimpses through to the wildlife exhibits below. Planters along the walkways provide access for maintenance to the plants that will climb up tensile stainless steel cables stretched across the façade.
The site is adjacent to Bradley Heads Road but a significant number of large existing trees will form a visual buffer between the road and the retreat. The new buildings are setback significantly from the road, with the closest building being 15m metres from the road edge. The façade facing the road of this closest building includes a planted Green Screen that will provide additional discretion.
Hardwood timber cladding to the accommodation pods also helps integrate them into their context and timber and perforated metal blades on south-westerly glazing minimises heat loads while again breaking down scale and reducing visual impact. These facades also include flexibility to open up in several ways and allow natural ventilation and engagement with the natural environment. This is achieved by the options of operable sliding doors and strips of operable louvres.
Other external materials include stone gabion walls used for the retaining walls and the bases of selected buildings, and vertical steel slat balustrading.
The shared public components of the Wildlife Retreat include the reception Guest Lounge and the Dining Facility. These buildings respond to the circular nature of the existing Taronga Centre and can be opened up in appropriate weather conditions to provide open air gathering spaces for guests. Roof forms incorporate pergola shading.
Terracing and steps down from the Guest lounge provide a venue for outdoor talks by Zoo staff with the Wildlife Exhibit in the background.
The animal display within the Australia Habitat and Taronga Wildlife Retreat will showcase high conservation value animal species in an Australian landscape, based on the sandstone woodland of Mosman and its harbour shoreline, home to a diverse and complex range of wildlife. The Retreat provides unique immersive wildlife experiences where guests will experience conservation based encounters with Australian animals, and enjoy educational tours and talks within the Australian landscape.
For visitors to Taronga Zoo, a typical Australian landscape presents iconic species such as the Red Kangaroo, Tasmanian Devil and Koala. The Taronga Wildlife Retreat enriches this experience by introducing smaller threatened native animals, which are usually not seen. Conservation stories of these species can give visitors a better understanding of threats to wildlife and promote Australia’s amazing biodiversity.
A variety of native animals and their behaviours are hidden from view in the landscape - they burrow, create complex nests, or spend the majority of their lives underwater. Whilst amazing in their complexity and forms, these animals and behaviours are rarely seen by zoo visitors – but in the Australia Habitat this becomes possible, aided by innovative zoo design, keeper presentations and the opportunity for overnight encounters.
The habitat design will create a free ranging exhibit area where animal behaviour is experienced first hand by guests, who can learn about their natural history, and the important ecological roles they play in the landscape.
All animals will be provided with a means of sheltering from wind, rain and extremes of temperature and sunlight. (Providing a combination of ground cover and external plantings to create natural habitat fulfils this requirement.) Enclosures will incorporate adjoining holding yard(s). Fencing will be minimised and restricted to the outer edges of the Taronga Wildlife Retreat. Suitable ground cover and/or other sight barriers are provided so that individual animals can isolate themselves visually from visitors and other macropods sharing the enclosure.
The Australia Habitat is to be managed on a sustainable basis, including the maintenance of ecological processes, genetic diversity and geo-diversity. The vegetation planting will be consistent with the Sydney Sandstone Gully Forest/Coastal Sandstone Heath as found in the Mosman/Bradleys Head Bushland area. All natural features on site are to be retained, including the recycling and re-use of excavated site sandstone. Additional canopy tree planting will be added to provide shelter and habitat.