Paris Zoological Park
Atelier Jacqueline Osty & Associés designed the new landscape for the zoological park. The public is now offered encounters with animals and nature in a peaceful relationship.
The Paris Zoological Park opened its doors again in April 2014 after 27 months of renovation work that completely transformed it while renewing the zoo’s existing strong points, most notably the gardens’ iconic Great Rock.
The size of the grounds of the Paris Zoological Park has increased by 40% compared to the original 1934 zoo, but the biggest change is the evolving vision of the relationship between humans and animals, which has been completely revised. The new landscape designed by Atelier Jacqueline Osty & Associés for the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) is proof of this. Out go the bars as the animals roam free in enclosures and compounds. The general public is now offered encounters with animals and nature in a peaceful relationship fostered by newly blurred boundaries and the principle of genuine “otherness“ that is fuelled by changing the up-to-down views to more face-to-face encounters.
Reference to mise en scène
Cinema and theater: the reference to mise en scène is everywhere in the design of the newly landscaped spaces in the Paris Zoological Park. Five “biozones“ succeed one another along a four-kilometer-long track, starting with Patagonia, and then the Sudanese Sahel, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar. From on- to off-screen, scenes from the wings, foreground and background, the eye is guided, and the views are infinitely receding, scripted meticulously in composition and framing.
Breaking down distances between humans and animals
Continuing this metaphor, Atelier has created successive visual frames that enlarge the dimensions and break down distances between humans and animals. Time as a fourth dimension has been added to 2D and 3D. It becomes a part of how one perceives the zoo, with permanently changing landscapes as we move through the seasons and years. And lastly, imagination acts as a fifth dimension, where suggestion completes the mental landscape and rounds out this multi-scale composition. Alternating overall views and total immersion, the circuit rolls out like a ribbon along which contrasting landscapes succeed each other.
The Paris Zoological Park reactivates several landscaping devices that are traditionally used in garden art to reduce boundaries, frame views and hide certain elements. Topography is used as basic leverage to lead visitors from surprise to surprise without revealing the circuit’s next stage. It is also a tool for enhancing the Great Rock, magnifying its 65 meters with an unparalleled low-angle shot.
An “in-between” world
The biozones are not a mere mimicry of idealised nature transposed into the heart of Paris. Atelier worked on suggestion, playing with visual references – colours, matter, levels and surfaces – to steep visitors in the appropriate atmosphere. Landscapes have been completely invented that suggest the original sites’ essential features and relief.
Thus the expanses of the Sahel and the empty plains of Patagonia are evoked by folding the ground and deploying the colours and matter specific to each place, the forests of Madagascar by the density and height of its plant life. This dissimulation of tracks has led to the design of unique places through their landscapes, their spaces and their diversity. Visitors are neither “here” nor “there” but in an “in-between” world that generates a troubling disorientation.
The “above-ground” feeling
This disorientation is augmented by occasional views outside the gardens, i.e. the fringe of buildings lining Avenue Daumesnil, the lake in the Bois de Vincennes, etc. On the other hand, their appearance reinforces the feeling of being in a singular place, inside a jewel box in the heart of the city. As for the rest, all references to an urban milieu have vanished. There are no streets or sidewalks to hinder one’s wanderings. Here the Paris Zoological Park recovers the “above-ground” feeling of the great European zoos (Berlin’s Tiergarten or the London Zoo in particular), playing the same role of a green enclave in the context of a high-density urban area. As the zoo’s iconic symbol, the Great Rock is a milestone along the historical Parisian north-south corridor.
Total remake of the grounds
The Vincennes Zoo is part and parcel of Parisian collective memory. Atelier’s proposal consists of preserving the symbolic elements in order to counteract any temptation for nostalgia. The zoo has been organised around the Gardens’ flagship landmark, the Great Rock. This was one of the brief’s specificities and a strong point in Atelier’s proposal. Renovated in the 1990s, it could be preserved as such, like certain other isolated rocks, ponds and trees. On the other hand, rather than “sticking to the past”, Atelier suggested a total remake of the grounds.
Dichotomy between the hidden and the visible
A zoo is a singular entity. In contrast to more traditional parks where the general public breaks down into well-defined user groups (children, families, young people, the elderly, etc.), each space in a zoo constitutes a distinct group with tailor-made treatment. Atelier was able to benefit from the experience it had garnered when designing the African plain segment of the Tête-d’Or park in Lyons. In particular, the agency developed the principle of fabricated landscapes, a dichotomy between the hidden and the visible, with specific attention paid to the wild animals. The Atelier team worked in close collaboration with the NMNH to foster the well-being of each species by respecting their style of life while offering the public as much of a change of scenery as possible.
Five biozones in one Zoo
The Gardens of the Paris Zoological Park are now composed of biozones that completely immerse the visiting public. The animals are no longer disconnected from their natural habitats but are shown as an integral part of the whole. Used in all contemporary zoos, this principle was but one component in the agency’s brief. Visitors are called upon to discover an enhanced landscape in which the visual, acoustic and olfactory surroundings increase the sense of a total change of scenery. The new Vincennes Zoo is thus composed of five biozones: Patagonia, the Sudanese Sahel, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar, with a sixth, Equatorial Africa, to be completed at a later date. This doesn’t mean that the natural spaces of an exotic region are merely imitated, for the landscapes through which visitors and animals circulate are suggested.
In order to make these panoramas, Atelier used diverse references, e.g. travel descriptions and accounts, animals, materials, plants and colour, and tales of the old zoo, always grounded in the memory and hearts of people older than twenty. In developing a “mimetic” herbarium, Atelier selected plants similar to those endemic to the animals’ regions. This didn’t mean creating one landscape based on another but instead imagining an in-between world specific to the Vincennes Zoo. To reconcile Atelier’s viewpoint with the animals’ needs, the staff, the existing plant-life and the new features had to be constantly adapted and adjusted.
A ribbon-like circuit
With a 40% increase in the planted area, the Paris Zoological Park now fully deserves its title as a zoological park. Incorporating visible and hidden spaces, this dense green mass is revealed along the 4-km circuit that offers visitors multiple points of view. The main, ribbon-like circuit enables people to move through all the biozones for an overall view of the gardens, while byways allow them to deepen their understanding of their experience and discoveries, all of which are there to surprise. Visitors sometimes find themselves deep in dense vegetation and sometimes overlooking plains. The topography makes it possible to accentuate the feeling of space through stressing its contrasts by hiding certain areas of the circuit. The circuit is like a movie panorama or tracking shot where viewpoints and landscape come to meet visitors.
1934: The opening of Paris’ Zoological Park, commonly known as the Vincennes Zoo
1990-2000: Renovation of the Great Rock
2008: Closure of the zoo for renovation
February 2010: Signature of the public-private partnership (PPP)
April 2014: Zoo reopened to the public with an expected 1,400,000 visitors
Surface area +34,5 acres (Berlin Zoo : 85.5 acres, London Zoo: 35 acres)
4 km circuit
40,6 % additional planted surface area
The Sudanese Sahel: 9,9 acres; Patagonia: 2.5 acres; Guyana: 2.8 acres; Europe: 2.5 acres; Madagascar: 2.5 acres
Animal and plant species
PLANTS: 450 varieties of plants; 797 preserved trees; 2,258 new trees planted; over 155,000 shrubs, perennials and grasses
ANIMALS: over 1000 animals; 180 animal species; 74 bird species; 40 mammal species; 22 reptile species; 18 amphibian species; 18 fish species; 7 invertebrate species
Guyana-Madagascar greenhouse: 1,900 plants; 140 trees (up to 12 meters high); 60 palm trees (up to 8 meters high)