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THE NATIONAL ZOOLOGICAL PARK Della Krantz GSAPP Spring 2013 Instructor: Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D. Associate: Leigha Dennis

The National Zoo contains 2,000 animals of 400 different species in its collection, located on 163 acres in Northwest Washington, D.C. The zoo was officially established in 1889 by an Act of Congress which called for the, “advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people,” and was initially designed by Frederick Olmstead to exhibit animals for the public and to serve as a refuge for animals such as the bison and beaver, which were quickly diminishing from North America. Construction of zoo structures and animal habitats was consistently ongoing, and for the first 60 years, the zoo focused on buildings and structures that highlighted individual species. In 1965 the zoological research division was established to study the reproduction, behavior, and ecology of zoo species. It became apparent that the physical condition of the zoo and its structures were outmoded. A master plan was developed in 1972, which made a variety of changes for animals and people. Indoor and outdoor space for animals was increased and conventional zoo barriers were replaced with landscape devices. The garden quality of the zoo was reinforced with plant life, existing zoo structures were remodeled, and water was introduced into the landscape in the form of ponds, streams, and waterfalls. In contrast to previous zoo building strategies, a major premise of the master plan was that structures were to be minimized whenever possible, replaced by ecologies highlighting multiple species. Today, animals live in natural groupings rather than as individuals. Modernization of the zoo’s facilities and a ten year renewal plan initiated the creation of the Asia Trail, a habitat for seven Asian species. Cohabitation at the National Zoo embodies the way that cross-species interaction can take on an interactive, communicative, and spatial form through architecture.


1880s: Origins The nineteenth century origin of the National Zoo was a collection of animals housed on the Mall next to the Smithsonian Institution’s Castle and at the site of the Holt House. These animals were used as live models for the work of taxidermists employed by the Smithsonian.


Buffalo at the Smithsonian Institution These buffalo are located near a shed in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Institution. They were acquired in 1886 by the United States National Museum’s Department of Animals, which eventually became the National Zoo.


1889: Olmstead Plan Congress selected a commission to select a site and build the necessary buildings for the National Zoological Park. Frederick Olmstead prepared a plan for the hillside site in Rock Creek Valley. This plan anticipated a small collection of animals at the center of the site for horse and carriages, leisurely strolls, and a small number of visitors. 5

Future Home of the National Zoo A road, sidewalk, and a park bench are set among the trees on grounds purchased for the National Zoological Park in the area now known as Rock Creek Park.


Visitors, 1891 Visitors are seated on rocks at the south ford of Rock Creek near the National Zoo in 1891. A horse-drawn carriage with passengers has stopped in the water.


Easter Egg Roll, 1892 This image shows the annual Easter Egg Roll on Easter Monday at the National Zoo. At the top of the hill, the original 1892 Animal House designed by William R. Emerson, is visible. By the turn of the century the National Zoo had become a popular spot to spend Easter Monday. Many of the visitors were African Americans who worked as domestics had off the day

after Easter. Easter Monday at the National Zoo became a traditional African American family event. Crowds spent the day seeing the animals, picnicking, and, especially popular among the children, enjoying the Annual Easter Egg Roll on Lion and Tiger Hill, shown here. The Easter Monday tradition has continued as an African American family celebration. 8

1890s: Rustic Frontier The Buffalo House was the first animal house constructed at the National Zoo, designed by architect William Ralph Emerson. The log house evoked the cabins of the American West, referencing the buffalo and elk as North American animals. The Zoo was created at a time when Americans were concerned about “the closing frontier,” and the Zoo’s animals were reminders

to visitors of the disappearing American Wilderness. Animal houses included extensive pastures for grazing along with natural rock quarries to contain bears, a scheme that was unsuccessful. Only two of the original buildings exist today, the principal animal house, now the Lion House, and the Mammal House, now the Monkey House. 9

Lion House Construction, 1891 Construction of the Lion House in 1891, designed by William Ralph Emerson. The stone structure housed a variety of animal types during the early years of the National Zoo.


Early Flight Cage A visitor stands outside the Flying Cage, constructed in 1902, watching Golden and Bald Eagles.

1928: Bird House Although part of the National Zoo’s early collection, birds lacked a proper habitat at the zoo for many years. There was no one place for visitors to view various species; exhibits were scattered throughout the zoo with the eagle cage at the center of the grounds and the 1902 flight cage at the northwestern end. The Bird House

was completed in 1928 under the then Zoo Director Dr. William M. Mann and architect Albert Harris. The zoo attempted to modernize how it displayed its collections, remaking its image through architecture. The Bird House is a departure from the picturesque vision of Frederick Law Olmsted. Mann abandoned the rustic in favor of zealous architectural

projects that demonstrated that the National Zoo was in sync with zoological parks on the international scene. The Bird House and other structures erected during the 1930s represent a distinct era in the Zoo’s history where grand scale was matched by a refinement of detail, and the robustness of the architectural presence of the animal houses were viewed as symbolic of the health of the Zoo itself. 11

Bird House, 1928 The Bird House was a large, one-story building, containing 145 indoor cages. At its center was a great room which soared above the roof-level of the exhibit areas. This room contained rock work and running water. Light filtered into the central block through clerestory windows and from the large skylight in the ceiling. The red tile covering the roof contributed to a Mediterranean feel.


1930: WPA Funding In 1930 the Works Progress Administration building program made $1.3 million available for new buildings at the National Zoo, enabling 85 murals, 39 sculptures, and over 10,000 other pieces of artwork to be commissioned. New buildings and renovations included a new Elephant House, Reptile House, a wing on the Bird House, a Small Mammal House, and a central heat13

Reptile House, 1931 The Reptile House, designed by Albert Harris in 1931, was the centerpiece of Director William M. Mann’s new zoo. Mann sought to make the National Zoo the finest and most modern in the world. Mann and Harris traveled to Europe in 1929 to study zoo design, focusing in particular on Reptile Houses. The building featured a marble porch entrance decorated with reptilian 14

Interior of Reptile House The interior of the reptile house demonstrates the way in which WPA era zoo buildings exhibited individual species. Here, the crocodiles are singularly on display, separated from the public by multiple structural barriers. Later, the 1972 master plan will call for rehousing the crocodiles in a lagoon with a variety of other plant and animal species. 15

Trail to Bird House, 1934 Civil Works Administration project workers construct a trail to the Bird House at the National Zoo in 1934.


Small Mammal House, 1936 Construction of the Small Mammal House, designed by Edwin Clark, the architect of the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, took place in 1936. The house is divided into four sections; the first containing 96 cages and tanks, some with glass fronts and others with steel bars. The second section houses the great apes, gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. The third section the gibbons,

and the fourth section, known as the ‘nocturnal room,’ has a group of small creatures rarely seen in public collections. Completed in 1937, the brick and limestone building cost of $280,856.


Elephant House, 1935 The Pachyderm House, known as the Elephant House, was a pivotal design for the exhibition buildings at the zoo. It was the last to use historicism as a source of its architectural expression (classicism) and to exhibit expressive ornament.


Interior of Elephant House Cages line each side of the interior of Elephant house. A rhinoceros’s head is visible in one of the cages to the left.


Great Flight Cage, 1965 This flight cage opened to the public in 1965, corresponding with the establishment of the zoological research division and the critical examination of the zoo and its structures leading to the request for a master plan. The cage allows 13 species of birds to fly freely and received an award for excellence in design by the American Iron and Steel Institute. 20

ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1996) pg. B1

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

1972 MASTER PLAN The Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission approve the first-ever master plan for

Following a survey of animal quarters at the zoo that suggested that the provided spaces needed to be expanded and updated, the firm Faulkner, Fryer and Vanderpool was commissioned to redesign the National Zoo with a master plan. One of the primary purposes of the plan was to find ways to extend indoor and outdoor space for animals and visitors, replacing singlespecies structures with ecological habitats that highlighted multiple animals.

The master plan also expanded and redistributed public recreational facilities and enabled convenient access to the zoo beyond automobiles for bicycle and subway riders. Woodland paths were allocated to allow visitors to enjoy the park away from animals and crowds. The proposal removed surface parking lots, returning 12 acres of zoo land to animals and pedestrians. The extensive renovation and construction created a total of 29 redesigned habitats. 21

Map of Master Plan, 1972 The master plan expanded the boundary of the Zoo grounds, adding a new Administration Building and Restaurant along Connecticut Avenue. These two buildings were connected by an underground parking garage, and the complex became the “night-time zoo,� available to the public for dinner and wildlife lectures after regular zoo hours. 22



Master Plan Sections The master plan designed zoo buildings and animal houses that were arranged by ecologies and buried in hillsides to provide the zoo with valuable exhibit space without destroying the continuity of the landscape.



The Giraffe Plan The master plan provided a new building for the giraffes and a 50,000 square foot outdoor space planted with trees from their native habitats. Visitors were separated from the animals by a dry moat rather than railings.


The Lion and Tiger Plan Lions and tigers were to be housed in an exhibit containing three animal theatres, two for tigers and one for lions. Each landscaped space contained rocks and heated grottos, and were large enough to accommodate separate family groups and for the cats to establish patterns as they do in the wild. Winter quarters contained dens with interior viewing for the public. 28

Mann Lion and Tiger Exhibit The new home for lions and tigers at the National Zoo opened in May of 1976. The 3 acre natural exhibit is separated from visitors by a moat.


Monkey Island This photograph of Monkey Island illustrates the new trend in zoo exhibits carried out by the master plan. Monkey Island is home to several species of animals including Barbary macaque monkeys, Oriental Short-clawed Otters and several types of fish. New multi-species enclosures gave the animals a more natural setting, reflecting coexistence in the wild. 30

Administration Building The new Administration building of the National Zoo was first occupied in 1977. The two story building also contained educational facilities, including a 300-seat auditorium, a book shop, classrooms, the library, and a resource room.


Giant Pandas In 1972 the Zoo received Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling from China as part of President Nixon’s historic visit. Ling-Ling lived until 1992, at which time she was the longestlived giant panda in captivity outside China. Hsing-Hsing would go on to pass her record, dying in 1999 at the age of 28. In 2000, the zoo received two more adult pandas, their offspring, Tai Shan, left for 32

Wetlands Exhibit, 1989 In 1989 the wetlands exhibit opened at The National Zoo, which consisted of six ponds: five different environments and a “courtship� pond where local birds and plants common to wetlands are on view. Raised walkways wind among the ponds allowing visitors viewing access through the exhibit.


Renovation of Waterfowl Ponds, 2000 The revised wetlands exhibit contains a boardwalk traversing a series of ponds and plantings, however, no captive birds inhabit the exhibit. The ponds are inhabited by mallards, wood ducks, and black-crowned night-herons that nest in the trees and are native to the Washington area.


2006: Asia Trail The Asia Trail provides habitat for 7 species: giant pandas, red pandas, Asian small-clawed otters, clouded leopards, fishing cats, a Japanese giant salamander, and sloth bears. As visitors travel along the trail they learn about how the animals survive through interactive graphics that explain each species’ vital adaptations 35

Conservation Plaza Conservation Plaza, designed by Chatelain Architects, is a partially underground exhibit space connected by walkways that wind through a valley as part of the Asia Trail. LED lighting was integrated into handrails, fence posts, and stone walls to create a rhythm of light throughout the site.


2012: American Trail On the new American Trail, visitors explore the biodiversity of the Americas: Brown pelicans, seals, and sea lions are on exhibit together, reflecting coastal California. Other North American animals on the endangered species list, such as the gray wolves, beavers, and the bald eagle are surrounded by native trees and plants. 37

Future: Elephant Trails Vitetta Architects is in the process of designing Elephant Trails, a new 40,000 square foot LEED gold home for Asian elephants on approximately 8 acres. Part of the Zoo’s campaign to save Asian elephants, the design provides an addition to the historic elephant facility, increasing indoor and outdoor space by creating new habitats and a trek on the adjacent hillsides 38

Interpretive Pavilion Rendering of the Interpretive Pavilion, part of the new Elephant Trails section of the National Zoo.


2016: World’s Finest Zoo The zoo is in the process of implementing a visionary master plan for 2016 that will address the renewal of building structures, infrastructure needs, and flexibility for future growth. The Zoo’s ultimate future goal is that its facilities will reflect the Zoo as a proactive conservation organization that educates and motivates people about animals, their habitats, and the challenges 40


National Zoo Timeline  

In depth look at the history of the National Zoo.