Endangered South-East Asian species of gibbons feel at home in a new enclosure, the largest for gibbons in Europe, at Leicestershire’s Twycross Zoo.
Client: Twycross Zoo
Architect: Weedon Architects
Size: 4,000 sq m
Duration: 11 months
Words by Emily Martin
Images by Lucy Ray
Architecture practice Weedon Architects has delivered a ground-breaking scheme designed exclusively for gibbons at Twycross Zoo, Leicestershire. The Gibbon Forest is 10 times larger than the primates' previous enclosure and now forms one of the largest gibbon facilities in Europe.
Weedon Architects was charged with creating a space that replicates a natural forest environment, enabling the apes to behave as they would in the wild in South East Asia, but with visitors able to observe them.
Housing the diverse collection of gibbons, all of which are endangered in their natural habitat, the practice worked closely with the zoo's specialist gibbon team to create four islands to include external and internal habitats, and a two-storey central house.
Visitors are given plenty of opportunity to see the animals in the new enclosure
'It is a real challenge to be faced with the prospect of designing facilities for multiple end-users, especially when one of them is unable to speak for themselves!' remarks Stuart Curran, associate partner, Weedon Architects.
Inside the two-storey enclosure pods are provided for each of the gibbon groups
'Of the utmost importance was creating an environment that provides Twycross Zoo's gibbon groups with the maximum space and opportunity to behave naturally.'
Opening earlier this year, the scheme's shape and layout, with its long, thin islands, allow the gibbons to swing from tree to tree in their natural linear fashion, while the design minimises cross views of neighbouring groups.
Top-floor view of the gibbons
This will be further obscured when the soft landscaping matures. The central gibbon house draws its inspiration from surrounding timberclad agricultural buildings: an aesthetic agreed on with the local planning authority to ensure the building would 'nestle into the landscape'.
Special features to the scheme include a steel mesh ceiling through which keepers can feed the animals, encouraging the gibbons' natural behaviour of finding food high in the tree tops. Inside the building are four pods, one for each gibbon species at the zoo, and with a special bio-floor made of composting mulch.
Properly maintained, this mulched floor will act like a natural soil and, as it biodegrades, it will generate high humidity levels that are beneficial to the gibbons.
The wood-clad gibbon house is expected to 'settle' into the environment in time
Although more accustomed to delivering architecture projects in residential, education, offices and stations among others, Weedon Architects previously worked with Twycross Zoo to deliver the Giraffe House. It formed part of the Giraffe Savannah development at the zoo that heralded the return of giraffes.
One of the four islands that have been provided
'Working with multiple end-users, including a particular animal species, brings with it a very different set of requirements that need considering on many different levels,' says Curran. The practice has met the biggest challenge of ensuring it met the needs of the animals and keepers while accounting for visitor experience. 'The site layout, along with on-going strategic planting and landscaping, has been designed to benefit both the gibbons and visitors by giving a naturalistic habitat for the animals, while minimising the effect on them of visitors' physical presence. It allows for an immersive, but non-intrusive, experience.
Roof and cladding