Children’s Area at the Zoo – a special public space: a place where children, adults and animals alike should feel good, where it is interesting and fun year-round. This area may well serve as a stimulus for rethinking the entire zoo – one of the city’s most popular entertainment and leisure-time destinations.
To resurrect and imbue with new life one of the most barren and little-visited places in the zoo. To establish an environment giving rise to qualitatively new usage formats and scenarios. To provide a comfortable environment for animals within a confined area while facilitating programs of varying durations for all seasons for children of all ages. To show children how animals live in a more natural habitat.
To treat the children's area of the zoo as a public space where visitors and animals are on an equal footing. A zoo should not be a place where animals are penned up, but a learning environment. The area provides opportunities for both recreation and relaxation. The new environment conveys the idea of nature preservation, and includes new play-based educational facilities.
The Moscow Zoo is one of the very oldest in Europe. As with all old zoos, it finds itself in quite a precarious position: located in the center of a megalopolis, it has limited opportunities for further development by means of territorial expansion. But it can enhance the quality of the space it does have. Until quite recently, all that was offered to young visitors were fairy-tale themed tours, where even the selection of animals had to support the story line (for example, they tried to put a fox and a crane in the same enclosure). The children’s zoo was in need of an entirely new direction, a direction which was provided by Wowhaus in close cooperation with zoo specialists, sociologists from Design Bureau 23, and Dmitri Knorre, a biologist, popularizer of science, and designer of board games for biology.
The resulting approach envisions children’s visits to the zoo as an element of their socialization – in this way, the zoo ceases to a place where kids simply watch animals as if they were watching TV, but instead becomes a common playground. The new space contemplates three potential routes: a briefer one, a longer one, and one with separate activity modules. Animals are situated not in cages as is usually the case, but in open areas allowing them to play and otherwise carry on more naturally.
Next to each such area is a special play area for children arranged in the same fashion and augmented with educational play opportunities: a child can crawl into a nest like a bird, or crawl through an underground tunnel like a rabbit. This is not just fun, but educational as well – children best come to learn about the world through play, imitation, and movement.
This space is divided into several areas. The first is the “Farm” where geese, cows, chickens, goats, and other animals live. During briefer outings one can simply pass by the enclosures and look at the animals. There are other programs for those who have more time — they can come right up to the animals, touch them, and look after them along with zoo associates.
Beyond the farm is a forest zone and a long aviary tunnel – an enclosure for birds. Here smaller midland birds can fly freely about, while children, immersed in the cover provided by intertwining small branches, will feel as if they are in a dense forest, and get to see birds in their natural habitat.
By providing relief from the noise from the nearby parts of the children’s zoo, the aviary also serves as a protective buffer for the area inhabited by deer.
Across from the aviary, stretching along the opposing wall of the zoo, is an area with domestic poultry, beginning with a pigeon coop which should remind some adults of similar ones from their childhood yards and rooftops.
One of the final areas – “Rabbit City” – is a place with underground tunnels characteristic of these animals’ natural habitat.
Located right at the very exit is an area with no animals. Here one can simply take a quick break: there is a cafe for adults, and a play area intended for quieter games since interacting with animals can be a bit stressful for children. There is also a year-round education center located here.
Where possible, beyond cages, animals are provided with space allowing them to play – for example, multi-level platforms they can jump around on. The very idea is for them to be open “playgrounds”, not some veiled imitation of a natural landscape as is often the case in other zoos. This in turn allows children to understand and compare to themselves how animals behave and what they like.
Making comparisons easy: children’s play areas are arranged so as to offer corresponding physical activities: large woven nests — right across from bird houses, tunnels — right across from “Rabbit City” and so on and so forth.
Located along this route are specially designed educational stands. For example, by pulling on a rope (with help from parents), a child can find out how much stronger than people horses are – how much weight they can carry. Or, by using special binoculars, look at the world through the eyes of a snake, or a cow, or a dog.
During the winter visitor programs at the zoo are somewhat curtailed, but that does not mean life there comes to a standstill.