5 Aviaries Architects: Lionel Orsi Architect; Bernard Tschumi urbanistes Architectes, with véronique descharrières for the architectural design of new buildings; Synthèse Architecture, with bernard Hemery for the architectural design of the technical and renovated buildings; El Hassani & Keller for the scenography of the vivariums and the Park’s educational and directional sign-posting; SETEC Bâtiment for the technical fluids excluding the pond-water treatment; Bouygues Bâtiment-Île-de-France for the other technical areas
Developers: Chrysalis Développement
Icade: Bouygues Bâtiment-Île-de-France
Maintenance: Bouygues Énergies et services
Construction: Bouygues Bâtiment-Île-de-France Brézillon
Investors: Groupe Caisse des Dépôts, Icade, FIDEPPP Caisse d’Épargne, Bouygues Bâtiment-Île-de-France, Bouygues Énergies et services
Project Area: 34 acres
Text description provided by the architects. Cinema and theater: the reference to mise en scène is everywhere in the design of the new landscaped spaces. Five “biozones” succeed one another along a four-kilometer tracking shot, starting with Patagonia, then on to the Sudanese Sahel, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar.
From on- to off-screen, scenes from the wings, foreground and background, the eye is guided, and the views are infinitely receding, scripted meticulously in composition and framing. Continuing this metaphor, Atelier has created successive visual frames that enlarge the dimensions and break down distances between humans and animals. Time as a fourth dimension has been added to 2D and 3D. It becomes a part of how one perceives the zoo with permanently changing landscapes as we move through the seasons and years. And lastly, imagination acts as a fifth dimension where suggestion completes the mental landscape and rounds out this multi- scale composition.
Alternating overall views and total immersion, the circuit rolls out like a ribbon along which contrasting landscapes succeed each other.
The zoo reactivates several landscaping devices that are traditionally used in garden art to reduce boundaries, frame views and hide certain elements. Topography is used as basic leverage to lead visitors from surprise to surprise without revealing the circuit’s next stage. It is also a tool for enhancing the Great Rock, magnifying its 65 meters with an unparalleled low-angle shot.
Neither here nor there
The biozones are not mere mimicry of idealized nature transposed to the heart of Paris.
Atelier worked on suggestion, playing visual references—colors, matter, levels and surfaces —to steep visitors in the appropriate atmosphere. Landscapes have been completely invented with the original sites’ essential features and relief being suggested. Thus the expanses of the Sahel and the empty plains of Patagonia are evoked by folding the ground and deploying the colors and matter specific to each place, the forests of Madagascar by the density and heights of its plant life. This dissimulation of tracks has led to the design of unique places through their landscapes, their spaces and their diversity. Visitors are neither “here” nor “there” but in an in-between world that generates a troubling disorientation.
This disorientation is augmented by occasional views outside the Gardens, i.e. the fringe of buildings lining Avenue Daumesnil, the lake in the Bois de Vincennes, etc. On the other hand their appearance reinforces the feeling of being in a singular place, inside a jewel box in the heart of the city. As for the rest, all references to an urban milieu have vanished. There are no streets or sidewalks to hinder one’s wanderings.
Here the zoo recovers the “above-ground” feeling of the great European zoos (Berlin’s Tiergarten or the London zoo in particular), playing the same role of a green enclave in a context of high-density building. As the zoo’s iconic symbol, the Great rock is a milestone on the historical Parisian north-south corridor.
Thwarting nostalgia with a radically new proposal
The Vincennes Zoo is part and parcel of Parisian collective memory. Atelier’s proposal consists in preserving the symbolic elements to counteract any temptation for nostalgia. The zoo has been organized around the Gardens’ flagship landmark, the Great Rock. This was one of the brief’s specificities and a strong point in Atelier’s proposal. Renovated in the 1990s, it could be preserved as such, like certain other isolated rocks, ponds and trees. On the other hand, rather than “sticking to the past”, Atelier suggested a total remake of the landscaped spaces.
A zoo is a singular entity. In contrast to more traditional parks where the general public breaks down into well defined user groups (children, families, young people, the elderly, etc), each space in a zoo constitutes a distinct group with tailor- made treatment. Atelier was able to benefit from the experience it had garnered when designing the African plain segment of the Tête-d’Or park in Lyons. In particular the agency developed the principle of fabricated landscapes, a dichotomy between the hidden and the visible, with specific attention paid to the wild animals. The Atelier team worked in close collaboration with the NMNH to foster the well-being of each species by respecting their style of life while offering the public as much a change of scenery as possible.
Paris’s Zoo Gardens are now composed of biozones that completely immerse the visiting public.
The animals are no longer disconnected from their natural habitats but are shown as an integral part of the whole. Used in all contemporary zoos, this principle was but one component in the agency’s brief. Visitors are called upon to discover an enhanced landscape in which the visual, sound and olfactory surroundings increase the sense of a total change of scenery.
The new Vincennes Zoo is thus composed of five biozones: Patagonia, the Sudanese Sahel, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar with a sixth, Equatorial Africa, to be completed at a later date. This doesn’t mean that the natural spaces of an exotic region are merely imitated, for the landscapes through which visitors and animals circulate are suggested. To make these panoramas Atelier used diverse references, e.g. travel descriptions and accounts, animals, materials, plants and color and tales of the old zoo, always grounded in the memory and hearts of people older than twenty. In developing a “mimetic” herbarium, Atelier selected plants similar to those endemic to the animals’ regions. This didn’t mean creating one landscape based on another but imagining an in-between world specific to the Vincennes Zoo. To reconcile Atelier’s viewpoint with the animals’ needs, the staff, the existing plant-life and the new features had to be constantly adapted and adjusted.
A ribbon-like circuit
With a 40% increase in the planted area, the zoo now fully deserves its title as a zoological park. Incorporating visible and hidden spaces, this dense green mass is revealed over the 4-km circuit that offers visitors multiple points of view.
The main, ribbon-like circuit enables people to move through all the biozones for an overall view of the gardens, while byways allow them to deepen their understanding of their experience and discoveries, all of which are there to surprise. Visitors sometimes find themselves deep in dense vegetation and sometimes overlooking plains., the topography makes it possible to accentuate the feeling of space through stressing its contrasts by hiding certain areas of the circuit. The circuit is like a movie panorama or tracking shot where viewpoints and landscape come to meet visitors.
PATAGONIA: VASTNESS IN MINIATURE
Located at the southern-most tip of South America, Patagonia is known for its vast plains (pampas), glaciers and Andean forests. So Atelier had to find a way to recreate this feeling of immensity in the limited space of the zoo. First of all by getting rid of boundaries, in particular the vertical elements. The sight-line extends the enclosures to Daumesnil Lake. The ground is a major leverage for placing visitors in a specific atmosphere with wine-colored volcanic ash suggesting red sedum (rock plants) and black gravel and sand with their varying granularity to be suitable for the sensitivity of each animal’s hooves and their way of life. Rather like the natural landscapes of rocky coasts, the pond rocks are piled in black layers that are dark at the base and light at the top as if worn smooth by the wind. The penguin and sea-lion pools offer several permutations to favor the animals’ well-being and spark visitor interest, e.g. arches and terraces, an underwater bay-window on a huge pond enabling the animals to swim at full speed, nests incorporated into the rock, etc. All unified by dark color tones, the reaches of this biozone unfold like a long horizontal panorama that changes with each curve.
THE SUDANESE SAHEL: A PLAIN STRETCHING TO THE FOOT OF THE GREAT ROCK
One of the zoo’s best known animal domains with its herds of African giraffes and lions, the Sudanese Sahel is the Park’s biggest biozone. Deploying varying tones of cream, ochre and beige, it interprets the Sudanese plain with ever broader panoramas ending at the sheer thrust of the Great Rock. To realize the “endless carpet” effect, the herbivores’ enclosures are bound by “ha-ha” walls, a configuration of plant-filled pits that act as fences. The topography suggests undulating plains with successive layers and extended volumes.
The lions’ enclosure is viewed through three large bay windows that act as picture frames: the lion on its rock, the lion in the tall grass and the lion devouring its prey. This is full theatrical metaphor with tufts of plants providing visual surprises while hiding all technical devices. The antelope enclosure is an example of the in-between effect developed in the zoo, for a stand of black pines–not a feature of the real Sahel–has been preserved.
The pines are not just of heritage value but add to the fabrication of a landscape specific to the Vincennes Zoo, i.e. a vision of the Sudanese Sahel as conceived by Atelier, combining the giraffes’ ambling gait, the majestic repose of the lions and the rumination of the zebras.
EUROPE: A STROLL IN THE WOODS
The purpose of this “local” biozone that surrounds the northern slope of the Great Rock is to raise the public’s awareness of the biodiversity of Europe’s natural spaces. Along with the Guyanese greenhouse, it is the zoo’s only area where the features on display are the biozone’s genuine local essences. It takes it place amidst the preserved pine forest. Yet the European woodlands are composed of multiple environments that had to be represented: conifer forests, scrubland, marshes and cold mountains. The zoo’s old aviary was renovated to include not just technical advances (strengthening the netting) but to create a more sensitive landscape. The wolf enclosure was carefully studied so as to respect the wolf pack’s very hierarchical style of life, enabling them, for example, to occupy varying heights on the rocks. This enclosure is an example of how, by using two windows, the viewpoints have been composed so as to offer very different aspects of the same species. Whereas the first window gives a very stony rendition of the animals’ lives among rocks, cascades, caves and ponds, the second gives a more in-depth view right to the back of the enclosure through a densely green landscape.
GUYANA: THE TROPICS UNDER A BELL JAR
Between the outside and the inside of the new greenhouse, the Guyana biozone tackles the tricky challenge of climate differences, i.e. installing a tropical forest and its characteristic vegetation under Paris skies. Except inside the greenhouse whose the tropical plants were imported from Florida via Holland, Atelier worked in record time on the similarities of vegetation to grow a dense forest with amazing plants. Here more than elsewhere, the hidden-visible dialectic is decisive. In the very limited and long space inside the greenhouse, water creates a play of sounds (the cascade is heard long before it is seen), and visual surprises line the gradual slope down to the river, its waterfall and the spectacular manatee pool. The manatee moves about under the visitors’ eyes behind a window 12-cm thick in a reproduced mangrove. Mise en scène substitutes for nature to offer unique viewing points on these animals with their highly secret life-style, living hidden as they do amongst very dense vegetation. The jaguar, for example, has long tree branches and rocks overlooking a water hole that enables visitors to watch it fishing or resting. The primates require varying permutations, e.g. dense or scattered tree trunks or vines had to be adapted to each animal’s size and manner of movement. Here, immersion takes priority over a more general view, thus offering a totally new landscape to visitors after their visit to the European biozone.
MADAGASCAR: THE ISLAND’S TWO FACES
Upon leaving the greenhouse that concludes the Guyanese biozone, the Madagascar biozone is composed of two types of milieu: the tropical forest and the dry forest, very much a reflection of the island and its two very different ecosystems. Both landscapes share the same verticality highlighted by the aviaries, the soaring bamboo (designed by Atelier as an climbing structure for primate movement) and the tree trunks and infrastructure supporting the clinging plants.
Their differences are seen above all in the colors and matter, with dense, luscious plants growing from the forest’s dark, humid soil and the dry forest characterized by a pebble-strewn, light- colored soil. To augment the contrast between these two environments the agency created topography unique to the biozone in a poetic adaptation of what exists on the island. Upon leaving the greenhouse in fact visitors walk down a densely treed vale that hides the biozone’s other “ecosystem”. Here grow palm trees that have been selected for their strict similarity to the Madagascan originals, which could not unfortunately be adapted to the Parisian climate. The challenge in the dry-forest area was to hide from visitors the circuit’s denouement, i.e. their exit from the zoo. There are only limited views of the exit, and prior to a return to the city, the forest, so very different from the other biozones, extends the spatial displacement right to the end.
Windows onto the Landscape
Animal welfare is at the heart of the new Vincennes Zoo design. Animals move about in enclosures where they can hide in recesses from prying eyes. To give maximum pleasure to visitors, Atelier invites them into “the picture” through the use of expansive bay windows, enabling them to discover enclosures and their occupants in their best light. Designed with architect Lionel Orsi, thin anthracite-colored metallic structures like art objects are placed in strategic places, offering unusually close proximity to animals. They stress the staged composition by framing little bits of theater such as lions or wolves perching on rocks, pumas stretching along a branch or the aquatic games of otters and penguins, with each view being specific and echoing a staged landscape. Offering depth of field or zoom-ins on rocks, tree trunks and groves, these windows are part and parcel of the circuit. They are also educational tools enabling observation of the animals and their ways of life without disturbing them.
The Great Rock, landscaped rocks, rock-clad buildings
Atelier structured its brief around the Great Rock. An iconic element in the zoo’s and even Paris’ skyline, an urban benchmark, the Rock was renovated in the 1990s. The rock theme and its many permutations are at the core of the mise en scène and are present on all scales. Although certain “landscape rocks” seem to exist solely to adorn a view, they fulfill various functions, not only protecting plant life and defining enclosures but also for animal well-being as they facilitate feeding the animals and quenching their thirst. Other “artificial rocks” house caretaker services and make it possible to hide them from view. Other manmade rocks have been produced one by one using the technique adopted for building the Great Rock, but prototypes of different textures have been used for each biozone. With different designs for each, a steel rod acts as the core element around which specific concrete was poured. The rock was then hand sculpted and given a patina. Each rock was designed in collaboration with the museum’s staff to avoid any risk to the animals. They couldn’t, for example, be too steep or too flat. They also had to be designed so that hooves or horns wouldn’t get trapped in them. The landscaped rocks in the rhinoceros enclosure, for example, are the zoo’s only ones that are not hollow but fully filled because they would have quickly been damaged by such powerful creatures. Not all the rocks are new, however. Some are vestiges from the old zoo and have been preserved as specific heritage and amply displayed, such as those in the pond in front of the entrance to the greenhouse.
The zoo’s aviaries break with the image of simplistic boxes and cages covered by heavy nets. All references to pet shops, farms, urban settings or wire fencing have been eradicated. The aviaries have become extruded extensions of the relief they underscore, thus blending in harmoniously with each biozone’s landscape. The central aviary and those in and around the greenhouse were designed by Bernard Tschumi, whereas the steel-tube structures of the five landscaped aviaries were designed by Atelier in association with architect Lionel Orsi. The net and wire-fencing mesh (in metal or polyethylene) was determined according to the animals in each aviary. This means not just birds but also primates and the big cats, in other words all climbing animals. The technical work itself disappears into the landscape hidden by the color black or by imitating posts and tree trunks. Although the aviaries were designed as a consistent and unified whole, each one houses particularities according to its occupants and the ground it stands on.
The jaguar enclosure, for example, stands on a mound and accentuates its varying levels by leaning towards the public. It was designed to allow the two existing pine trees, preserved by Atelier, to grow. The enclosure of the golden- crowned sifaka or lemur of Madagascar is 8 meters high to enable the animals to enjoy their natural behavior in the treetops.