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Heart of the Zoo Entry

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dmadsen, hanley wood, llc

Project Name

Heart of the Zoo Entry


13000 Zoo Boulevard


Project Status



110,000 sq. feet


Minnesota Zoological Garden


  • General Contractor: Mortenson Company
  • Landscape Architect: The Portico Group
  • Lighting Designer: HGA
  • Structural Engineer: HGA
  • Civil Engineer: HGA
  • : HGA
  • HGA
  • Kvernstoen & Associates
  • The Portico Group



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Project Description

The Minnesota Zoo Entry Renovation includes three main components: The renovation of the Zoo's main entrance (to be transformed in the future to a student/group entry for the Zoo's Environmental Education Center), the renovation of the original indoor bird theater into a new Penguin Exhibit, and the renovation of an abandoned whale tank into a new Bird Theater. While modest in scope, the renovation creates a significant transformation to the zoo entry experience and is the first phase in a much larger "Heart of the Zoo" plan. When faced with significant budgetary constraints, the architects defined a "phase one" that softens the architecture at the entry and introduces a new Penguin Exhibit that utilizes existing space and will work with future Heart of the Zoo developments. Built 36 years ago, the Minnesota Zoo's concrete architecture aligned with the concrete enclosures that typified exhibits of the era. Exhibit design today places greater emphasis on creating more natural and humane environments to the benefit of both animals and patrons. The renovation of the Zoo's main entry exterior, in what will eventually become its Environmental Education Center, is intended to compliment and contrast the concrete used on surrounding buildings. Further, wood cladding, along with the introduction of a green roof, communicates the environmental stewardship key to the Zoo's mission. An overall goal for the project was to create an architecture that works harmoniously with the landscape and existing context while emphasizing its role in supporting the new landscape and zoological exhibits. From an exhibit standpoint, the team focused on two primary areas: a tiered existing indoor theater and a whale tank that had been sitting abandoned for 15 years. The sectional qualities of both spaces were conducive to placing the new Penguin Exhibit in the existing theater location, and then creating a new theater into the abandoned whale tank. In both areas the architecture disappears as much as possibIe to focus attention on the animal exhibits.
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