For animal lovers, zoos can be a mixed bag.
It's amazing to be in shouting distance of magnificent wild animals, but it's hard not to get the feeling that great apes, big cats and other creatures don't really love being behind bars, walls and windows.
Now, a Danish architectural firm is working with the Givskud Zoo and safari park in Denmark to break down those walls and create what they're calling Zootopia.
Architect Bjarke Ingels runs the architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG. He is designing the zoo, and tells NPR's Arun Rath that it's a great challenge for his company, which has worked on homes and structures for people, to work on one for other species.
"For the zoo, it's almost a question of trying to find ways of actually creating successful cohabitation between humans and different species of animals," Ingels says.
Zootopia is still in the concept stage, but Ingels says the idea is to include only social animals that like to live in groups.
"Which means you won't have a lonely tiger walking around inside a cage," he says. "You'll have ... all kinds of animals that like to be together in larger groups, so that we can actually create entire habitats."
The idea behind the crater-like entrance, Ingels says, is to give visitors an overview of the park, as well as act as a central gateway to the various areas of the zoo representing America, Africa and Asia. He says there will different ways to move through each area of the park — bikes, boats and sky cars — but that visitors will be separated from the animals by natural, invisible barriers.
"The idea is interfacing with animals in completely new ways," he says. "What we've tried to do is eliminate all traces of human architecture."
Buildings are masked as rolling hills and hidden barriers in waterways replace visible fences and barricades.
"The main contribution of Zootopia to the animal welfare is that because they are all social animals, they live really live with much more space than in a typical zoo," he says. "Both the human experience and the animal experience is going to be much more exciting."
Ingels says that building a zoo in this way might also lend itself to new and interesting ways human, urban environments could be built in the future.
"You're seeing more and more that the distinction between the city and nature ... is blurring more and more," he says. "It becomes more relevant to make sure that the other life forms can actually cohabit successfully with us.
"I really do think that if you can make great zoos, where so many different species can live in close proximity and harmony, you really can make great cities," he says.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
If you're an animal lover zoos are mixed bag. It's amazing to be in shouting distance of magnificent, wild animals but it's hard not to get the feeling that the great apes, big cats and other creatures don't exactly love being behind bars and walls. Now a Danish architectural firm is working with a zoo safari in Denmark to break down those walls and create what they're calling Zootopia. Architect Bjarke Ingels runs the architecture firm The Bjarke Ingels Group, or B.I.G. He's designing the zoo. Welcome to the program.
BJARKE INGELS: Thank you.
RATH: So you're known already for big ideas at B.I.G. Before we talk about the zoo, could you tell us about your other innovative designs for buildings?
INGELS: Right now we're building a power plant in Denmark that turns waste into electricity and district heating. But it's also made in such a way that you can actually hike on its roof. It's a giant public park. And in the winter you can ski on it.
RATH: Nice. So why did you decide to take on the zoo?
INGELS: For the zoo it's almost a question of trying to find ways of actually creating a successful cohabitation between humans and different species of animals. We've done a lot of homes for humans. To get to work for new species would be a great challenge.
RATH: So this is in the concept stage right now. But can you describe what it's going to be like to walk into Zootopia?
INGELS: First of all to understand Zootopia you have to understand that in Zootopia there's only going to be social animals. You won't have a lonely tiger walking around inside a cage. You'll have gorillas, you'll have wolves - all kinds of animals that like to be together in larger groups. So we can actually create entire habitats. And then secondly we've organized it in such a way that you start by arriving in something that almost looks like a giant tilted crater. You can walk along the rim of the crater and get amazing views out over the entire landscape of Zootopia. And then from this crater there'll be three giant gates that you can move through that will bring you in to either America, Asia or Africa. We have organized Asia so that you can visit it with water bicycles. You can bicycle through the area that is Africa and then you can actually take a cable car through the area that is America. So essentially the idea is interfacing with the animals in completely new ways.
RATH: How close though can you interface with an animal like a lion when there aren't, you know, traditional walls and bars? I mean, how do you work that out with - talk about some different animals, like the lion for instance?
INGELS: You'll still be able to drive through the Lion Park with your car in the traditional car-safari way. What we're basically looking at is to find different ways of hiding the barriers between the people and the animals and in this case what we've tried to do is to eliminate all traces of human architecture, so there are no buildings. You'll see rolling hills growing over the areas where the lions have to retreat when the winter gets cold in Denmark. And in a similar way using combinations of level changes changes, trenches with water where the water depth prevents certain animals from crossing - in the case of the bears, your cable car might actually come really close to the bears above them but it won't bring you within range. So you can say both a human experience and the animal experience is going to be much more exciting. I really do think that if you can make great zoos where so many different species can live in close proximity in harmony, you can also make great cities.
RATH: Look forward to seeing this.
INGELS: Yeah. Come over in five years.
RATH: Great. Architect Bjarke Ingels runs the architectural firm B.I.G. Thanks for your time today.
INGELS: It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.