In the pink
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Who says design is for the birds? Tom Hoepf does, for one. As vice president and principal design architect at Teng & Associates, he just completed a flamingo house and habitat at Chicago's lakefront Lincoln Park Zoo, home to nearly 1,200 animals representing over 230 species.
Hoepf's 1,600-square-foot building serves three functions. It's a winter refuge for the zoo's 16 Chilean pink flamingos, a facility for sick birds, and a work space for caregivers. As for form, the modernity of the structure's concrete, painted steel, and glass departs from the neo-Georgian architecture of nearby animal facilities.
"We took our cues from the site," explains Hoepf, citing the surrounding habitat's 1/2 acre of nontoxic dogwood, lilac, and juniper plants as well as its man-made pond, also designed by Teng & Associates. "The edge of the pond," he adds, "is mirrored in the curve of the steel-and-glass wall."
This all seems perfectly logical now, but Hoepf wouldn't have had a leg to stand on initially if Megan Ross, curator of birds, and Neal David, the zoo's vice president of facilities, hadn't established such a clear directive: Create an environment where the flamingos feel relaxed.
Contrary to their tropical appearance, the birds are hardy enough to spend most of their time outdoors, so Teng & Associates paid careful attention to the pitch of the site, proximity to water, and grade shifts into the pond. These are all issues that, if not handled properly, could cause great stress to the birds. When they come inside—through an entry on the house's north face—the flamingos are greeted by a materials palette specified not just for aesthetics but also for durability and easy cleanup. (Zoo staff hose down the concrete floor and glass panels daily.)
Behind the curved glass wall, a subtle reference to the flamingo's graceful neck, the birds can warm themselves in the winter sun. The curve also maximizes the view across the pond, and the triangular panels refract light to create especially spectacular patterning on the blank surface of the floor.
Teng tucked the veterinary facility and caregivers' work space into the rear of the flamingo house. Occupying 800 square feet, this human-dominated zone is set up with cages to house sick birds or newborns and their mothers. A row of 10 heated "brooder boxes" shelters young fowl, with water trickling underneath to soothe them.
Humans who aren't zoo employees enjoy access to one part of the flamingo haven, too. An asphalt path leads to a circular roof platform landscaped with sedum. From here, visitors get a bird's-eye view of one of the oldest zoological gardens in the country—established in 1868 with the gift of a pair of swans.