1. Night Safari Four Years After: a Post-ocupancy Study
  2. The Role of Architectural Design in Promoting the Social Objectives of Zoos
  3. East Meets West: How Cultural Attitudes and Belief Systems Influence Zoo Design

Night Safari logo Night Safari Four Years After

A Post-occupancy Review

by Michael Graetz and Simon Corder

This paper was presented at the 5th International Symposium on Zoo Design organised by Paignton Zoo and was published in Conservation Centres for the New Millennium. Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium on Zoo Design, edited by Amy B. Plowman and Peter M.C. Stevens. Paignton, Devon, U.K.: Whitely Wildlife Conservation Trust, 1999.

Anyone contemplating a display of nocturnality in wildlife (as opposed to nocturnal animals in daylight) should read this before embarking on such a project. The particular solution described here may or may not be suitable in every situation nor be the only way to set up nocturnal exhibits, but it should be read for the discussion of the problems of traditional nocturnal exhibits (involving day-night reversal) and the principles (particularly for lighting) that are outlined.

These principles are not prescriptions and in different locations and under different environmental and other conditions, different solutions might emerge. But these should build on or be a reaction to methods established for the world's first night zoo. For example, there are promising lines of thought in the area of day-into-night exhibits, involving switching of species.

View the abstract of our paper on the genesis of the Night Safari here


The Role of Architectural Design in Promoting the Social Objectives of Zoos

A Study of Zoo Exhibit Design with Reference to Selected Exhibits in Singapore Zoological Gardens

by Michael Graetz


This study was conducted in the early 1990s. The zoo it describes differs significantly from that which can be seen today. The data collection was completed as the Night Safari was about to open and the Singapore Zoo proper was on the cusp of a major transformation that continues today. Subsequently, it gained a new entrance, restaurants and major new exhibit complexes and an overarching set of storylines expressed in a master redevelopment plan. All this rendered at least some of the exhibits studied here ready to be pensioned off. Only the Pygmy Hippo exhibit with its West African riverine theme - at once zoo-geographic and bioclimatic - anticipates the changes to come.

In some respects, ideas of landscape immersion and behavioural engineering seem a bit redundant in a tropical location like Singapore. Many exhibits already have the right environmental conditions without the need to simulate them for either animals or visitors. Indeed, it is often more a case of curbing rather than creating the wild state of planting, ameliorating the impacts of heat, humidity and high rainfall rather than having artificial thunderstorms on the half-hour.

Yet, exhibits in a tropical zoo are still highly artificial and subject to the same wear and stereotypical behaviour as in any zoo if not carefully managed and maintained. So animal management and exhibit maintenance are important. But what about design? The basic question this dissertation addresses is whether design makes a difference beyond functionally providing living quarters for the animals and allowing them to be seen. To most zoo design professionals, this is itself a redundant question, a ‘no-brainer’.

Yet no one, to this author's knowledge, had subjected this intuitive truth to any scientific scrutiny. Previous studies had established a strong correlation between the time spent by visitors viewing exhibits and a rough ranking of species on a multi-factored scale (based on size, taxonomical closeness to ourselves and so on) that could loosely be called ‘charisma’. Does it matter whether the bear is in a pit or on a mountainside? Stated like that, the answer seems obvious: presentation matters; but to what degree?

That the basic question of whether design matters is answered affirmatively but not as unequivocally as one might expect, can be put down partly to the the basic problem of separating design factors from the difference, in charismatic terms, between orang utans and crocodiles for example. (That and the fact that the author is an architect and not a trained social scientist.) Short of building two exhibits for the same species in different styles purely for experimental purposes, this study uses a variety of methods - surveys and surreptiously tracking visitor movements - to tease out factors in visitor perceptions other than the simple popularity of different animals. The results are suggestive, if still bound to be ambiguous. The clearest positive responses to the setting rather than just the animals came from the Night Safari, which is perhaps not surprising considering that the visitors were viewing a new kind of zoo and so would experience it with senses heightened.

In much the same way, visitors to the day zoo who come from temperate countries seem to be struck by the tropical environment as compared with zoos they have visited at home. This gives these tourists an impression of greater naturalism.

Read the full zoo design study


East Meets West: How Cultural Attitudes and Belief Systems Influence Zoo Design

Presented at the Zoo Design Conference, Wroclaw, Poland, 4-7 April 2017

by Michael Graetz

Read the transcript here: East Meets West


Zoos can be seen as a cultural expression of society. Zoos have roles in scientific research, conservation, education and recreation with the first two cited as the main obligations of zoos. Yet these four elements carry much historical and cultural baggage in their interpretation. This paper will discuss the effects of cultural differences on the design process.

Zoo design is the outcome of numerous factors, not least of which are the various stakeholders who, directly or by proxy, have a bearing on the outcome. The balance of pressures from the various parties will determine how traditional or innovative a zoo or zoo exhibit will be. The primary influencers are the owner/operator (client) and the designer (consultant)

As more new zoos are developed outside Europe and North America, Asia, where this author mostly works, will be the focus of this paper. The Western model of zoos, however, is the obvious starting point for those seeking to develop new zoos but how does this model respond to local cultures, and how should the designer respond?

Some of the conclusions drawn will hopefully be universally relevant and not solely applicable to Asia, which is in any case an extremely diverse continent.


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