opsis architecture

Oregon Zoo Education Center Opens

May 1, 2017 – Portland, Ore. – The Oregon Zoo’s new Education Center, designed collaboratively by Opsis Architecture of Portland and by Jones & Jones Architects Landscape Architects of Seattle in partnership with Metro Portland and the Oregon Zoo, opened to the public on March 4, 2017.

The 20,000 SF center is intended to create a hub of environmental learning and activity to excite and inspire the inner conservationist in visitors, with a focus on youth and with the central theme, “Small Things Matter”.

The building forms arc around a central circular plaza and the learning landscape is woven throughout. Two sweeping curved roofs take their cue from nature and welcome visitors to the plaza. The plaza and main public space known as the Nature Exploration Station (NESt) is the center of activity where visitors can access the Insect Zoo and see turtle conservation in action. The open wood form of the NESt was inspired by the nests of small animals and houses permanent and changeable exhibits for all types of audiences.

Opsis lead design architect and principal in charge, Alec Holser describes the NESt and the curving arc of the design, “I am a firm believer as a designer that the best work evokes different emotions and responses to each individual.  That means the work has something to say, and like with any art form, it is as much from the viewer as the artist.  The spiral shape is one of the unique forms of nature that is both beautiful and when you think about it so beautifully representative of growth- which is of course the basis of all life.  The idea of the nest as a “woven” structure of many elements together to create a shelter is also so basic- many animals make them with the understanding that this weaving creates a more permanent environment.”

The Insect Zoo displays insects in habitats representing three biomes: Tropical Forests, Temperate Forests and Deserts. Urban Insects and other invertebrate species are presented with a laboratory feel and back-of-house elements are visible to guests. There is a volunteer work area for teens who help show off the insects and a multi-purpose use auditorium known as the Conservation Hall.

The Education Center includes indoor and outdoor classrooms complete with education gardens and a café adjacent to the main plaza.  Walls of the interiors of the NESt, café, and classrooms open wide to the outdoors with operable glass wall systems and garage doors to blur the line between indoors and nature.

Jones and Jones landscape architect Mario Campos comments about the importance of the Education Center’s gardens and his approach: “Nature must be experienced through feelings to get close to it, through minds and hearts. Imagination and play are as necessary as thought to understand the natural world.”

Carrying through the idea that a connection to nature must be emotive and inspire feelings, the Backyard Habitat focuses on how insects play a vital role in the lives of people through pollination, composting, food chain, and beauty.  From the hands-on compost bins to the Bee-Friendly Bee Hostel, the Backyard Habitat provides a storytelling place for visitors to share insect experiences, view meadow flowers and art, and search for the crawlies in a leaf-shaped digging pit.

From toddlers to teenagers to adults, the Nature Bird Forest releases the inner explorer in all of us.  With a focus on birds, the hands on activities and adventure trails bring nature into close contact for learning moments.  There are activities tables, stepping logs and wood rounds, a living willow laced hut, a tall log tower complete with an osprey nest on top, and a dozen birdhouse ‘condos’ that remind us we are sharing this space with others.  A long trail leads explorers to the camp site with an expansive view of Mt. Washington’s forests.  A fire pit and two large tents can seat up to 100 children for summer learning camps as well as overnight events. The Center is designed for net-zero annual energy use, with passive ventilation cooling strategies, 760 solar panels, use of Forest Stewardship Council certified wood products, bird-friendly lights and fritted glass to help prevent bird strikes, a wildlife garden shelter and native bee hotel with green roofs, rainwater collection for flushing toilets, and use of salvaged materials in the gardens.

The project is pursuing LEED Platinum Certification and LBC Net-Zero Energy certification.  Once certified, it will be Portland, Oregon’s first and only net-zero public building.

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