Chester Zoo Entrance and Education Centre comprises of a new entrance building including a canopy, ticketing facilities and education centre. The proposal also includes reconfiguring the visitor and coach parking and new road access routes into the Zoo. It forms part of the first phase of the wider Natural Vision at Chester Zoo Masterplan: a re-examination of the existing zoo layout with extensive proposals for a habitat expansion and increased visitor numbers, including our proposal for the Heart of Africa – a rainforest biodome. The new entrance zone would allow for more efficient handling of large visitor numbers, making the experience of waiting to get into the Zoo more comfortable. Upon arrival at the entrance zone the new entrance canopy would assist to define the transition from arrival, ticket purchase and guest service enquiries through to the entrance into Chester Zoo.
The new zoo entrance zone would be comprised of three interlinked public realm spaces and a new entrance building which have the capacity to deal with large visitor numbers and the flexibility to handle a range of events. The proposed entrance zone building is located to address the ‘Welcome’ and ‘Event’ spaces. It would accommodate new ticketing, guest services and staff accommodation. These new facilities would also wrap around the existing retail facility.
The design proposes a timber grid shell ‘umbrella’ with integral ‘living’ roof that envelopes the new facilities in an undulating landscape form and defines the threshold between the car park forecourt and Chester Zoo Plaza by way of the canopy. The free-flowing curves and expressive forms of the proposed design for the entrance building and canopy is inspired by the non-linearity and creative forces of nature and biological organisms. The proposal also takes its precedence from the settlement patterns of primitive African villages. These villages were usually built in a roughly circular shape and centered on a visiting and social area. Most would have been palisaded for protection. This can be described as an organic style which follows Chester Zoo’s aspirations to fascinate and inspire, and combines a respect for nature with a harmony of natural forms, flows, and systems. Utilising natural and recycled materials, including reclaimed timber shingles and salvaged components from existing zoo structures, this new facility will promote the conservation agenda of the zoo and actively demonstrate the worldwide ecological and environmental initiatives of the North of England Zoological Society.
The accommodation requirements of the proposed brief have been identified as Front-of-house activities for public use and Back-of-house accommodation for staff use. The ticket purchase, guest service facility and retail expansion are each expressed as individual pod’s that provide a clearly distinguished reading of each facility to the visitor. They are each articulated to sit as free form objects beneath an undulating roofscape, seen to float above. These pods will be clad in timber shingles or a recycled material of rubber or metal shingles, which will cover the walls and roof of each pod. The ticket purchase pod will have shuttered openings for each of its 16 staffed booths. The Guest Service and retail pods will also have a shingled wall and roof covering, but will also have extensive glazing to their frontages.
Back of house facilities are sandwiched between the pods and the existing retail building and are treated as single storey flat roof structures that interface between the free form pods and the existing building.