Glass-Free Menagerie: New Zoo Concept Gets Rid Of Enclosures

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For animal lovers, zoos can be a mixed bag.

It's amazing to be in shouting distance of magnificent wild animals, but it's hard not to get the feeling that great apes, big cats and other creatures don't really love being behind bars, walls and windows.

Now, a Danish architectural firm is working with the Givskud Zoo and safari park in Denmark to break down those walls and create what they're calling Zootopia.

Architect Bjarke Ingels runs the architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG. He is designing the zoo, and tells NPR's Arun Rath that it's a great challenge for his company, which has worked on homes and structures for people, to work on one for other species.

"For the zoo, it's almost a question of trying to find ways of actually creating successful cohabitation between humans and different species of animals," Ingels says.

Zootopia is still in the concept stage, but Ingels says the idea is to include only social animals that like to live in groups.

"Which means you won't have a lonely tiger walking around inside a cage," he says. "You'll have ... all kinds of animals that like to be together in larger groups, so that we can actually create entire habitats."

The idea behind the crater-like entrance, Ingels says, is to give visitors an overview of the park, as well as act as a central gateway to the various areas of the zoo representing America, Africa and Asia. He says there will different ways to move through each area of the park — bikes, boats and sky cars — but that visitors will be separated from the animals by natural, invisible barriers.

"The idea is interfacing with animals in completely new ways," he says. "What we've tried to do is eliminate all traces of human architecture."

Buildings are masked as rolling hills and hidden barriers in waterways replace visible fences and barricades.

"The main contribution of Zootopia to the animal welfare is that because they are all social animals, they live really live with much more space than in a typical zoo," he says. "Both the human experience and the animal experience is going to be much more exciting."

Ingels says that building a zoo in this way might also lend itself to new and interesting ways human, urban environments could be built in the future.

"You're seeing more and more that the distinction between the city and nature ... is blurring more and more," he says. "It becomes more relevant to make sure that the other life forms can actually cohabit successfully with us.

"I really do think that if you can make great zoos, where so many different species can live in close proximity and harmony, you really can make great cities," he says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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