Go bananas for the new restaurant at one of the oldest zoos in the world

Studio Farris Architects have redesigned part of Antwerp Zoo, creating a unique narrative that leads from the city into the wilderness.

Antwerp Zoo is the oldest animal park in Belgium; established in 1843, it was listed as a national monument in 1983 and also boasts the title of being one of the oldest zoos in the world. Originally, its objective was to encourage zoological and botanical sciences, and having been managed by the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (KMDA) since it was founded, it remains a remarkable location.

Image: Martino Pietropoli

In 2013, the KMDA appointed Studio Farris Architects to create a new identity for the zoo. The KMDA invited the firm to design a new restaurant and aviary, as well as updating the ape and buffalo shelters. The main ambition of the project was to enhance visitors’ experience at the zoo, putting them at the centre of a narrative that leads them away from the city and into the zoo wilderness.

Image: Martino Pietropoli

This narrative vision was possible considering the zoo occupies a large portion of Antwerp’s historical city centre; surrounded by a perimeter wall, the zoo’s surface area nears 10 hectares. Studio Farris’ project was mainly situated in the eastern end of the zoo, which offered them the chance to define the eastern boundary wall as well as the enclosures. Thanks to Studio Farris Architects, the wall’s street-side façade is now punctured by a system of openings that offer pedestrians views into the zoo's restaurant and savannah enclosures.

Image: Koen Van Damme

On the other side of the wall inside the zoo, the façade opens up into a main plaza and the restaurant. Designed as a major gathering space, the plaza is sheltered by a series of overlapping square canopies; these are supported by columns that extend from the restaurant’s building. Each side of the plaza overlooks an enclosure – from their seats, visitors can enjoy unobstructed views of the apes’ enclosure on one side, and the buffalos’ enclosure and walk through aviary on the other.

Image: Jonas Verhulst

By extending the existing animal shelters, Studio Farris Architects hoped to establish a relationship between visitors and the animals. By creating a path through the aviary, visitors are able to get a much closer look at the birds in their natural habitat. Another way visitors can get a closer view of the animals - without disturbing them - is through the large, full-length windows within the restaurant interior. The restaurant is also slightly elevated on one side; below the windows, the structure creates an overhang which acts as a shelter for the animals.

Image: Koen Van Damme

Four years in the making, Studio Farris’ project at the Antwerp Zoo was finally completed in June 2017. Since creating the new facilities, the KMDA have noticed an increase in the number of visitors to the historic attraction. The public, they say, is “especially enthusiastic about their unusual experience”. Responding to a complex brief that needed to take into consideration the needs of both animals and visitors, Studio Farris Architects have designed a space that will guarantee Antwerp Zoo continues to proudly present its title as a national monument.

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