News

Birmingham Zoo Celebrates Grand Opening of New Arrival Experience

August 16, 2019

First impressions apply to both human interaction and building design, and the Birmingham Zoo’s new Arrival Experience and Welcome Plaza makes an exciting first impression.

The new entrance concludes Phase 2 of the $18.6 million Renew the Zoo Capital Campaign. Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood GMC served as the project architect and landscape architect for the Arrival Experience, which includes a two-story building, restrooms, two plazas, outdoor classroom, natural play areas and an event lawn.

“The goal was to design a modern facility that complemented the existing zoo and incorporated natural materials in an interesting way,” explains project manager Bob Gray. “The materials used were regionally inspired. The stone is quarried in central Alabama; steel was used to highlight Birmingham’s history as a major steel producer; and the wood is from tree species that are native to Alabama.”

A design challenge was the world map in the Hugh Kaul Plaza, Gray adds. The map is created from the shapes of animals and is a centerpiece of the new entrance.

“This proved to be much more complicated to manufacture than you would think, but it is now a centerpiece of the new plaza… It took a lot of coordination with the contractor, manufacturer and the graphic design team at Scout Branding to come up with something that would work. The end result, however, was well worth it.”

Queuing and ticketing were expanded, and beyond the gates is now a plaza with seating and views into the exhibits. The larger restroom building has a sensory inclusive room for children with autism. The event lawn and green park area replaced two ponds and former fish hatcheries near the front entrance and provides a venue for zoo events.

Parking was expanded and improved while preserving 70 percent of the existing trees. An entrance path underneath a shaded tree canopy is where visitors begin their zoo excursions.

Education was factored into the design with multipurpose indoor space for animal encounters and other educational programs. The project also created ways to increase revenue, with a larger gift shop, event lawn and multipurpose space rented for events.

Animals were protected during construction. “We tried to minimize not only the impact of the construction on the thousands of visitors that come to the zoo each year,” says Gray, “but minimize any disturbance to the animals living there.”

Image 1-Materials used were regionally inspired such as the stone is quarried in central Alabama and the wood is from tree species that are native to Alabama. The project includes a two-story building, two plazas, outdoor classroom, natural play areas and an event lawn.

Image 2- A design challenge was the world map in the Hugh Kaul Plaza. The map is created from the shapes of animals and is a centerpiece of the new entrance.

Image 3- The new Arrival Experience and Welcome Plaza is part of the Birmingham Zoo’s Phase 2 of the $18.6 million Renew the Zoo Capital Campaign.

*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Goodwyn Mills & Cawood