Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects welcomed the Indianapolis Zoo’s invitation to create a state-of-the art exhibit for orangutans with a tremendous sense of pride and responsibility. Our goal was simple – give the orangutans spaces that function as trees to allow them to express their normal behaviors for optimal physical, physiological, and intellectual health. The design team went back to the primates’ native habitat for inspiration. From material selection to the layout of the exhibit, we successfully mimicked the environment of a forest without trying to emulate the look of the real thing. The challenge to maintain an architectural solution optimized for both humans and orangutans, while keeping in mind the Polynesian vernacular that inspired the design, was great; the result, awe-inspiring.
Because orangutans prefer to dwell high up in the forest canopy, the design provided them with multiple opportunities for vertical and lateral movement within and outside the center. The main exhibit tower “leans forward” and allows the orangutans to climb above patrons sitting in the lowest parts of a plaza, that serves the dual purpose of patron seating and orangutan viewing, with additional space for education and kiosk set-up. Access to mid and lower level areas is provided through long graceful, arching accessible ramps on either side. The exhibit allows its inhabitants to ascend a 75-foot tall climate-controlled interior viewing space, access two outdoor yards, and freely traverse and nest about an outdoor network of masts, cables and platforms – collectively referred to as the Hutan Trail or “H-Line”. The H-Line serves the dual purpose of providing exercise for the orangutans while providing patrons with interesting and unique ways to observe the animals in action.
The sheer strength and intelligence of the orangutans dictated the use of a multitude of creative material and mechanical solutions to create a safe and delightful environment. Sustainable features include an 8,000-square-foot green roof that helps manage stormwater and extends the longevity of the roof assembly, in addition to the use of groundwater source heat pumps that utilize well water for natural heating and cooling. The stunning centerpiece of the SSIOC is the iconic 150-foot tall Nina Mason Pulliam Beacon of Hope, a towering structure with nighttime illumination controlled by the orangutans.
A unique design by Browning Day, and close collaboration between scientists and the project team, transformed an otherwise regular zoo exhibit into a classroom, a place of hope and a comfortable home for these primates nearing extinction.
In addition to its Honor Award in the architecture category, the project also collected awards in the Construction and Engineering categories at the 2014 Monumental Awards.