We’d like to revisit a project first published last year, a renovation of the zoological park in Vincennes, France. The zoo’s landscapes are designed by TN PLUS Landscape Architects, its buildings by Parisian architects, Beckmann N’Thepe. Partly run on solar power, the complex encompasses six “biozones,” attempting to replicate the savannah, equatorial African rainforests, Patagonia, French Guiana, Madagascar, and Europe. The concept was sold as an “ambassador” for conservation, with it’s primary mission to describe conservation efforts of these habitats in their native locations. The team had two zoo specialists, Jean-Mark Lernould, former director of Mulhouse Zoo, and chairman of CEPA, an organization for the protection of endangered species, and Monika Fiby, a zoo consultant, zoo designer, and project manager of the ZooLex Zoo Design Organization from Austria.
The teams participating were required to include specialists in the fields of landscape architecture, architecture, zoology, urbanism, tourism, scenography, green building, and engineering. The original zoo was opened in 1934 on 14.5 acres in the park of Bois de Vincennes. Its landmark is an artificial rock of 67 meters – “le grand rocher.” Architect Letrosne was stronly influenced by Hagenbeck’s zoo in Hamburg, when he designed “a theater stage in concrete, a stylish landscape, wild and spectacular, but overtly artificial.” Estimates for the renovation are around 135 million Euro. in October 2005, prime minister Dominque Villepin listed the zoo among 35 projects the government would achieve by engaging a public/private partnership.
We are always faced with the dilemma of creating environments for animals in captivity. How can we be more humane? At risk of drawing some ire, we often wonder how to introduce people to animals outside their immediate environment beyond watching a video or reading a book. Is it enough to learn to appreciate our global ecology in such manner? I think most of us accept that these environments are “replicas.” Perhaps our greater concern should be who governs our notions of “public good,” and who is really providing this zoo for our consumption? Who are these entities engaged in the public/private partnership? In these renderings, one doesn’t see the advertising for coca-cola which litters so many of our zoos/aquariums/wildlife parks in the United States today. What does it mean when corporations play a role in preserving, conserving, and educating the public about these environments? It is striking that affluent, educated, and influential citizens trust nature’s future to the authorship of a public/private partnership which may or may not be revealing their full interests when educating children about the future of these environments.