The Cincinnati Zoo Kids’ Shop

Cincinnnati Zoo Kids' Shop - design board, Glaserworks, 2000

The Kids’ Gift Shop at the Cincinnati Zoo was a response to the needs of a sophisticated client, the restrictions of a convoluted site, and the complex circumstances of a year round zoo operation which we discovered was more akin to an industrial enterprise than a pastoral habitat.  In a classic theme park inspired gesture, it set up the entrance to and became the exit from the Children’s Zoo, a separate area within the zoo compound.

The prevalent school of thought suggested that shops be dark, artificially lit environments, with plenty of wall space for the merchandise and a fairly anonymous architecture, which can be changed simply and easily at short intervals.  We consciously broke away from that rule, as our analysis placed more emphasis on openness, identity and congruity with the surroundings.

Cincinnati Zoo Kids' Shop - CNC model; Glaserworks, 1999

Biology factored highly as the morphological organizer, so a series of studies in different media (clay, cardboard, wood) culminating with a 3D digital model juxtaposed two fluid interacting volumes to produce our final design parti. We researched and abstracted animal movement while trying not to mimic any particular biology.The snap shot convulsion reacted to the site intensities by curving to form the back of an oval piazza. In the relationship of the two reversely bent bodies we found the set of rules governing the formal parameters of the oppositions transparency-opacity and smooth-rough.

Cincinnnati Zoo Kids' Shop: Interior, Glaserworks, 2000

The building is clad in 3 different profiles of milled cedar, a natural material which carries its weight well in the lush botanical garden surroundings.  In accordance with the biological metaphor the building skin was layered to expose the internal stratification of the bodies. The smooth, light, outer epidermis “peels off” to consequently reveal a rougher, darker substratum; the layer below it shows traces of inner articulation; and finally, tissues thin to allow a peek into the inner organs: glass.  The roof was treated in a correspondingly scaly copper membrane, which in the past 10 years has already tuned into a deep verdigris.

The interior of the retail part with its undulating, reaching 26 feet height ceiling, supported by the exposed glu-lam ribs, creates the sensation of a beast’s belly. Glazing in the second floor wall allows carefully planned deep views following the ceiling curvature while obscuring the jumble of the storage area. There is a lot of natural light both from the clerestory and from the windows along the perimeter.

The cash-wrap is a folly with a purpose. A snakelike creature descending from the rafters. (It is made of interlocking ¾” laminated plywood shapes and four sculpted fiberglass parts.)

This project, designed and built in 1999-2000, enabled me to bridge the gap between design and construction enabled by proto-3D information modeling.  The digital model of the building, created for construction purposes in FormZ was not parametric, and did not contain a great deal of information beyond geometry, it approximated curvilinear geometry by faceted and had to be completely redone several times to reflect sometimes minor changes in layout or morphology.  It was, however, good enough to be used for the direct generation of the glulam frame of the building.  Consisiting of over 185 unique glulam parts it was analyticaly optimized to conform to the geometry of 3 families of elements only, which made it feasible for the project without compromizing the uniqueness of the geometry.

The glulam carcass was fabricated by Timber Systems in Toronto, ON, shipped to the site in Cincinnati and assembled over a couple of weeks.  There was one field cut.

The building won a Cincinnati AIA Honor Design Award for Glaserworks in 2002 and was featured in a number of online and printed publications.

An article, which appeared in the Italian web magazine on architecture, Arch’It.

Design team (Glaserworks):

Art Hupp, AIA – Principal in charge

Paul Duffy, AIA – Project manager

Raffi Tomassian – Project designer

David Schmidt, AIA – Project architect

Steven Shaefer Associates – Structural engineers

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