In 1987, the Elephant House -- or more informally, the Stinky House -- and several other structures were officially recognized as National Historic Landmarks.
Lately the zoo has been making architectural waves yet again with the 2006 opening of the Harold C. Schott Education Center & Zoo Academy. Ours is now one of only three LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified zoos in the country. Even more impressive, the Education Center is one of a mere five LEED Silver certified buildings in the entire state of Ohio.
But this is merely the jumping-off point for the zoo's architectural master plan. In an effort to promote and educate the masses about sustainable design and living, all new zoo construction from this point forward will be "green."
This is a good thing, right? But what exactly does "green" construction mean? In this case, it signifies the pursuit of LEED certification for all new zoo building projects. In general, LEED construction projects address six major design categories: sustainable sites; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; indoor environmental quality; and innovation and design process. Designed by local architecture firm Glaserworks and built by Turner Construction, the Education Center & Zoo Academy meets these criteria in a number of ways.
For starters, there's the 20kw solar energy -- or photovoltaic -- panels adorning the south side of the roof that drastically reduce the building's reliance on fossil fuels. The most noticeable feature would have to be the greenhouse atrium, or the "hub." Encircled by classrooms for the Academy and overnight programs, the hub contains a "Discovery Forest" boasting a variety of tropical plants and animals. Standing inside the hub, the expansive view of the Stinky House creates a picturesque commingling of old and new, imparting a certain exotic, escapist quality.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the facility's construction materials come from high-recycled content. This can be seen in the wainscoting made of organic by-products like sunflower seeds. Local materials and products additionally play a key role, including an old oak tree formerly living on the premises. When it was determined -- apparently after exhausting all options -- the tree could not be saved, it was cut down, kiln-dried and incorporated into the structure in the form of a reception desk, benches and interior woodworking.
Yes, this building is impressive, but for more than aesthetic reasons. The zoo aims to become a national model for sustainable living, and is well on its way to achieving this goal. For starters, they've already reduced overall water usage by 30 percent from 2005-2007, and have converted their trams and Safari Train to bio-diesel fuel.
In a statement on the zoo's Web site, Vice President of Education and Facilities David Jenike asserts, "The Cincinnati Zoo now has one of the few recognized high performance buildings in the country. ... The use of sustainable design in the construction not only reflects our goals as an organization dedicated to conservation, but it also provides a vibrant educational opportunity for our community and our city."
Since education is the raison d'etre for this building, I hope that we will all be receptive to this "vibrant educational opportunity," and be inspired to educate ourselves about sustainable living.
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