Sydney Wildlife World is a world-class tourist attraction, which presents Australian wildlife in a nine habitats that closely resemble the natural environment.
The core concept behind the built form was to excite attention and capture the imagination through a dramatic and iconic structure. Its key element is a flowing, organically shaped canopy, which envelops the entire building. It is created from a skeletal frame covered with a flexible membrane of Zoomesh. The curvilinear effect is enhanced by 35 structural arches which are self-supporting parabolic curves.
This unique design meets a number of functional challenges in an innovative way. The structure elegantly spans the awkwardly shaped site, which is partly situated on water. Taking inspiration from a python’s body, the roof expands and contracts when required to accommodate 10-20 metre tall trees within “bumps” in the contour. Below the canopy is the main load-bearing structure built on two concrete slabs, which are over engineered in order to hold soil 1 metre in depth (permitting the use of tall trees). Internal displays are lightweight and non-load-bearing, allowing them to be easily moved. The project has been made cost-effective through use of a standard structural system (slabs, pier and beam) and by obviating the need for external walls. The shell heats up and cools down quickly, making climate control cost-effective, while the Zoomesh protects against direct sunlight yet diminishes the need for artificial lighting.
For visitors, the 1 kilometre enclosed walkway provides 1.5 hours of total immersion in nature, yet without disturbing the animals: the pitch of the glass ensures animals see only their own reflection. The ramped walkway moves up and down to provide interaction with wildlife at varying levels, creating a stimulating experience. Young children can interact at their own level since the exhibit glass extends right to the floor. Human “perches” allow visitors to rest during the experience. The project integrated the expertise of specialists from Sydney Wildlife World who designed the exhibits, including an innovative multi-species ecosystem.
A key objective was to respond sensitively to the site context. The long facade above the pedestrian area is a structured grid, referencing the grid design typical of Sydney’s wharves. A series of timber slats also evoke the timber used in the industrial areas of the harbour. Outside, angled timber poles evoke the memory of trees which once lined the landscape.
An important benefit of the project is the contribution it is making to educate the community about conservation. The experience for visitors is especially powerful due to their face-to-face experience with animals (many of which are rescued from bushfires and accidents). Exhibits also demonstrate best practice animal husbandry, for example, by providing animals with double the exhibit space required by government guidelines.
The project also delivers benefits to the public domain. Since the Zoomesh is nearly transparent, people outside can see the rainforest inside the facility, creating an unexpected vista of green. The low-slung structure ensures the building makes a minimal impact on views from CBD buildings.