Oregon Zoo Education Center earns 2019 AIA COTE© Top Ten Award

Inspiring visitors to engage in sustainable actions is the mission of the design and exhibits at the Oregon Zoo’s Education Center, selected as an honoree of the 2019 AIA COTE© Top Ten Awards competition. This is Opsis’s second project to be honored through the COTE© Top Ten program – widely recognized as the architecture industry’s most influential recognition program for sustainable design excellence.

The Center provides a home base for thousands of children who participate in camps and classes annually, and serves as a regional hub, expanding the Zoo’s youth programs through collaborations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and other partners. The Center includes classrooms, meeting spaces, gardens and a Nature Exploration Station (NESt), and inspires visitors to get outside, learn about nature and take action on behalf of nature.

Illustrating that “Small Things Matter,” the Zoo’s 1.7 million annual visitors experience interactive exhibits that demonstrate how actions can help maintain a healthy planet.


The Center creates dialogue between the built and natural environment, with each interior space offering a corresponding visible and connected outdoor space.

The wood and steel woven structure of the NESt is inspired by the nests of animals creating shelter and order in the environment. As the center of activity accessed through large sliding doors, visitors learn the stories of local conservation heroes, and access the turtle conservation lab and the Insect Zoo—where the smallest of animals can have the largest ecosystem impacts.

Within a plaza at the west end of the Zoo, the tight, irregular site is bounded by curving boundaries of exhibits, the Zoo railway, a pedestrian path, and a steep south hillside. The building hugs the central plaza, and learning landscapes exist throughout. Inspired by the unique spiral patterns prevalent in natural systems, two curved roofs welcome visitors to the plaza.

Sustainable elements, including solar panels, native plants, bird- safe windows, and rain gardens, are designed to educate the public. The Center recently earned LEED Platinum certification with 82 points and Portland AIA’s 2030 COTE award.