Aldric Beckmann Architects
Helsinki, Finland
Project Year
© Artefactory


Aldric Beckmann Architects as Architects

This new zoo will speak of time immemorial, of a time when architecture was just scattered functional structures and when land was still pristine and untouched. It will develop the cult of the instantaneous, the revelation of the fleeting, the awareness of passing time, the emotion of the seasons and finally, nature as a positive counterpoint to the urbanisation of Helsinki. This architecture / landscape will evoke a rich and diverse land that conceals a range of animal, scientific and educational discoveries. Our most current knowledge, our cutting edge technologies will be expressed for the pleasure and curiosity of visitors young and old.

How do we render this meeting between two aesthetic worlds, born of the unlikely telescoping of modernity and eternity ? The zoological island of Korkeasaari will be cut off again. Its architectural interventions will be concentrated to make it wild and mysterious once more – a park / garden as a place of popular privilege, the nobility of the future city. Architecture disappears in favour of controlled geography, like the resurgence of a neighbouring landscape. The entrance grouping the set of utilities crucial to the running of the zoo becomes a focus of visual identity, somewhere between form and shapelessness, pierced with cavities.

Like layers of skin peeled back to receive an implant, there will be an above and a below that dialogue and interpenetrate one another. Areas of light, uncertainty, reflections and depths will be developed, offering the first emotions of a visit that will play on time and the seasons through four biozones :

- Central Asian Steppe - Arctic Pole - Asian Temperate Forest - Central Asian Mountain

The zoo will draw man, animals and plants into a dialogue through colours, smells and the immersion of our body in the body of nature. We would like the zoo to be a place of sensuous and educational experiences as well as physiological – a place where you discover nature at the same time as your own nature; the setting of an interaction between man and animals. Artifice / Nature is chosen in an intriguing, mysterious, attractive strategy of shifting perspective in the service of the animals and their well-being to become the icon of a new cultural and scientific life in Helsinki.

Repeated visits to the present zoo leaves us with the impression of an infrastructure that is of course perfectible, but most of all, a rare, powerful landscape, at once rough and peaceful, naturally reinforced by the insularity of the site. The image lingers on of this former park dedicated to workers at the beginning of the century, with its seaside installations and pavilions; it imprints the place with a romantic, picturesque atmosphere that we wanted to extend and revisit today in the context of the zoo renovation.

The result is a project based on five powerful concepts :

1. Reinforce the insularity of the place by working on the zoological garden’s accessibility and image from the outside.

The idea here is to highlight the zoo’s insular character by redrawing its banks and staging access points from the outside (harbours, cablecar, bridgeheads).

2. Reinforce the natural look of the site by relying on the restitution of the iconic landscapes of the selected biozones.

The existing plant structures enabled us to identify coherent landscape entities capable of forming the basis for the landscapes of 4 selected biozones in the context of the animal collection plan. The historic sector, with its majestic trees, is intended to receive the temperate forest area while the more open areas provide suitable accommodation for the animals from the steppes; the steepest sector in the west will take in species from mountainous environments, and the eastern sector the arctic pole, bringing together the Taiga, Tundra and arctic zone. Vast interstitial areas will be preserved as free spaces for relaxing, thereby bolstering its original vocation. These spaces will be reserved for children’s games, picnic areas and the planting of an arboretum in the historic sector, thus broadening the project’s educational dimension.

3. Reverse the relationship system between the animals and visitors by viewing the zoo as the animals’ living space into which the public is “invited”.

The traffic areas are optimised so as to ensure maximum room for the animal species. They will be treated in the form of a «ribbon» running through the site and rising above the ground so as to free useful surface area for the animals, while leaving them an opportunity to reach the bank by stretching the dimensions of the enclosures. In addition, this arrangement makes it possible to have many different viewpoints from which to look at the animals. Meanwhile, measures will be taken in order to preserve as far as possible the privacy of certain areas and to improve animal well-being.

4. Broaden the zoo’s attractiveness for all seasons.

That is, emphasise the possibilities of visiting in winter by making the visitor itinerary sheltered and comfortable. In winter visitors can look around the zoo’s lodges and backstage areas.

5. Lastly, use the benefit of the zoological institution in order to extend the site’s educational and cultural vocation to all environmental aspects

In the 19th century, a zoo appeared as a tremendous tool for building awareness not just of the preservation of animal species, but also the delicate balance of ecosystems. Man’s role in these balances is one of the keys to understanding the zoo and this calls on the visitor’s responsibility as an active element in running our planet better. Thus, on the fringe of the visit to the animals there is a chance to make an “ecological” visit, stressing the threats menacing both the animal species and ecosystems presented, with the purpose of fostering guilt-free awareness through a fun, interactive approach. In addition, a visit of the old facilities will be offered (notably including the bear and baboon enclosures) in order to recall the advances made in the way the animals have been displayed since the zoo’s inception.

The constraints of Helsinki’s climate and the specific features of the landscape at Korkeasaari back up our idea that the zoo needs to remain specialised in the showing and breeding of species that are well adapted to the cold. On the other hand, we think that the zoo’s attractiveness in winter must be increased by offering the public more possibilities for visiting in warm, sheltered conditions, with a larger collection of animals from warm regions than is currently on show, in a set of buildings grouped together. As regards species that could adjust to the local climate, we are suggesting a collection of species originating mostly from the Palaearctic ecozone, particularly the arctic and subarctic biomes, temperate forests (with a specialisation in the Amur region) steppes and mountains. This includes a fair share of the current collection. Species are shown by biomes in landscaped enclosures.

The lists of birds are limited to a few species from each biome and the technical aspects of their display in the Helsinki climate need to be assessed in detail. At this stage of a competition for ideas, we are proposing no reptiles, batrachians, fish or invertebrates. We are proposing three buildings for species native to hot regions. A glasshouse to hold the fauna and flora of Madagascar. Certain species are shown in limited spaces with possible access in outdoor presentations when the weather is favourable; others are free to wander around the entire indoor area. The visitor is plunged into the natural environment. The highlight of this Madagascan glasshouse is provided by the lemuroids and endemic birds. However, there will also be invertebrates, freshwater fish (some species are almost extinct), batrachians and reptiles to complete the illustration of evolution over millions of years in this closed island environment, and the threats facing fauna and flora that are like nothing else in the world.

A neotropical glasshouse reserved for the fauna and flora of the tropical regions of South America, on the same lines as the Madagascan glasshouse. One of the highlights of this glasshouse is provided by highly endangered primate species of the Atlantic Forest. Here again, however, there is room for the other classes of vertebrates and invertebrates so as to inform the public in every field of biology and biodiversity conservation. A building with reverse lighting for nocturnal fauna. It presents Madagascan and South American species, in addition to the two glasshouses, but other ecosystems as well, to illustrate the great diversity of species adapted to nocturnal life.

Highly endangered species in their natural environments are chosen so that the zoo can develop its contribution to saving these species both in situ and ex situ. Lastly, along the path through Mustikkamaa, we propose to put domestic animals on public display in order to develop the theme of animal domestication and how it relates to the development and evolution of human societies throughout the world.

The paths are treated on a hierarchical basis so as to take the visitor naturally along a single path in the clockwise direction. In this way, the visitor follows a logical course, while being able to take shortcuts, all leading to the central Pukki building. Peak traffic can thus be managed by dispatching groups to the biozones furthest out. To preserve the existing topography and trees, these itineraries are superimposed over the existing paths. Their materials and dimensions are the same so it is clear which way to go. These paths will be raised up from the ground, a veritable natural heritage, to preserve it and to give visitors the idea that this artificial path has been placed over a fragile territory. By opting for this deliberately artificial side, in concrete, the rest of the landscape appears all the more natural and it heightens the effect of an outstanding island territory. The path is deliberately in a broken line, reverting to the methods of the 18th century garden, with numerous viewpoints and placing the emphasis on becoming part of the landscape and avoiding looking across at the other visitors.

The main path for visitors in summer follows the natural lie of the land, while ensuring access and comfort for mobility impaired people (5 %). The path is sometimes slightly raised onto a footbridge to allow animals such as deer to pass, and give an impression of going through the enclosure and to have numerous places from which to look at the animals against the backdrop of the sea. In winter, there is a shorter, sheltered itinerary for visitors, who can take the paths used by the animal attendants, visit the huts and if they so wish meet the zoo staff and get a glimpse of the activity behind the scenes.

The attendants’ path is therefore large enough to accommodate both staff and the public. There is a roadway alongside a smaller footpath, separated from the road by a shrubbery to partly conceal them. In each hut, there is a room with a window to offer a view over the enclosure and into the hut. Equally, in the winter the attendants can use the visitors’ path. The attendants’ path hardly ever crosses the summer visitors’ path. It skirts around it or is set in tunnels or hidden by vegetation or embankments. Technical platforms, one per biome, are planned, to include the huts, storage areas, kitchen, and a small parking lot for attendants’ vehicles.

The secondary paths are unmarked. They are a free way on the existing ground, as is the case today, providing a different approach to the enclosures. Some of them are more for fun; for example, there is a microtunnel to crawl into the middle of the sousliks’ enclosure to observe them more closely.

The viewpoints : The main path widens out in places to mark major strategic views of the enclosures. These stopping places are dotted along the way in places where no fences are to be seen or visitors on the other side.

In contrast with the current look of a programme scattered over different parts of the area, the future zoo brings together all functions relating to visitor reception, administration and the initial animal attractions under a large protective sheet of countryside. This concentration of functions and utilities enables:

- the insular image to be highlighted by concealing the architecture through an effort to camouflage it - all zoo personnel to be brought together - the number of staff to be kept down - the introduction of a protected, fun, educational and attractive winter visit

Without causing traumatic upheaval to its balances, the slight raising of a skin of land provides this cover halfway between landscape and architecture. This gently, random shaped vault is absolutely modern; its bright, shiny finish underneath contrasts with its natural planted finish on the top. The lines are thin and pleasant, blending in as well as possible with the curves of the existing terrain. All entrances to the zoo come together into this vast reception area, enabling the visitor to plunge into a completely different world and make his first steps on a journey of discovery to the heart of nature science. Like a slow scenography, the tour is organised into ramp, squares and terrace leading initially to a café, a restaurant, an information point, and a shop. Each utility is a volume in readily identifiable carved shapes. Their lack of scale and their reflections contribute to the overall abstract quality and mystery. It is a large, warm, generous, brightly lit spot.

The reflection of the stainless steel boxes plays with the sun streaming in through wide openings more or less protected with broad inflated ETFE cushions. Nature is everywhere, above, below; it enwraps and eats into the stainless steel volumes in infinite contrasts. Some of the volumes emerge skywards in a special transparency, taking on the colours of the weather and revealing a 360° sight, with unrestricted views of Helsinki, its city plan and its luxurious green islands. From the centre of the upper square, we come to the auditorium and get to visit the animals through a wide brilliant white door. The first heated greenhouse plunges visitors amid the fauna and flora of the South American rainforest. The visit continues into the Madagascan world ahead of the cavernous darkness of Nocturama. Two escalators snatch you up and out into the open air in the middle of the Central Asian’s Steppe on the island’s high ground.

The Zoo entrance architecture today is a recreated landscape-object that plainly deploys its contrasts and contradictions, serious yet relaxed, familiar yet incongruous, natural yet artificial, mysterious yet open, simple yet sophisticated.

Option for the animal collection :

We propose a list of mammals representative of the steppes and semi-deserts extending from Eastern Europe to Iran and Mongolia, taking into account their availability at zoos. The species in the current collection are to be kept. New species are selected to diversify the representation and to take part in other European Breeding Programmes (EEPs).

Landscape option :

The demolition and relocation of the existing administrative buildings will generate a space with little by way of trees. This modification, combined with the existing gently sloping relief makes it possible to have an extensive steppe-like area. The visitor will thus discover some very arid open country, vast grassy prairies in which species seem to live together. The illusion of a single scene is reinforced by the enclosure separations being a combination of stony dry ditches and electric fences, invisible from the main path. The animal attendants pass along sunken accesses concealed by embankments planted with grasses and dry shrubs. The visitor makes his way from the entrance area along a rocky corridor, a geological fault, before coming to the steppe biome. The goitred gazelle enclosure is the first one in the zoo. The presence of gazelles at a zoo specialising in species of the far North immediately gets the visitor thinking.

The way then takes off above ground, in order to keep to a 5 % slope to make the tour easy for mobility-impaired users. This path over a footbridge, snaking through the existing trees, which are preserved, is an opportunity to have built-in fences around the hyena and caracal enclosures. The visitor will now have a full view of all the animals from the main panorama of the biome. The collection presentation will be staggered across different planes: in the foreground, the Przewalski’s wild horses, then the Turkmenian wild sheep, the Asian lion, and still further back, the Bactrian deer. The visitor gradually comes closer to the animals. There follows a succession of small enclosures, with fun side-paths to the Pallas cats, spotted ground squirrels, polecats etc. This includes an underground path to let children get close up to the squirrels, while leaving a view in the middle of the enclosure.

The visitor now comes to the enclosure of the Corsac fox, then the Kulan and the Bactrian camels, which he will again be able to see from close up from the terrace of the Pukki restaurant. The tour continues with views of the Turkmenian wild sheep pens and the Asian lion enclosure. The Bactrian deer can only be seen from a distance. In winter, visitors can approach them using the huts and the animal attendant path. The side-paths also offer different viewpoints from which to look at the animals. The path rises slightly onto a footbridge from the lions’ enclosure, ending the biome and marking a break with the Arctic pole.

Option for the animal collection :

We are bringing the polar, tundra and taiga fauna together in the zoo. We are keeping the species in the current collection, and to make the zoo more attractive, we are proposing some spectacular species: Steller’s sea eagle, polar bear, Arctic wolf, walrus, Greenland seal and beluga whale. A beluga whale show would be a first in Europe. The sable is added because it disappeared from Finland 300 years ago. The idea for «Borealia» is being kept, only on a larger scale. We are creating an aviary for sea birds nesting in the tundra or on coastal cliffs, a set of aviaries for tundra birds and another set for taiga birds.

Landscape option :

The Arctic pole will be divided into 4 different sets of themes and landscapes:

- an Arctic zone to be established astride the sea, while having the benefit of the opportunity of the specific shoreline features between the zoo and Quarantine Island, around semi-watery enclosures such as the polar bear or the walrus and seal enclosure.

- a taiga zone, to be located in an area densely planted with conifers.

- a tundra zone, to be set at the foot of the outcrops in the southern part of the island: a cleared landscape of lichens to accommodate species like muskox that eat up open spaces.

- an optional zone, developed in the third instance, on the island of Hylkysaarensalmi, to develop an extra tourist attraction around a restaurant – aquarium at Beluga.

The Arctic zone will recall rough, icy landscapes. Vegetation will be sparse and rare on the ground, with a low tree layer. The dry, stony ground will let the existing rock show through on the surface. The main path will take off from the ground to include the fences of the polar bear enclosure. The enclosure is linked to that of the Arctic fox which can reach it through a burrow The polar bear beach is handled with pebbles and rocky beaches. The pool is dotted with plateaux – islands. In summer, the enclosure is refreshingly shaded by some tall tree stock. You then pass through the guillemot aviary, before delving into the relief along a path leading to the underwater room. In a dark, soothing world dotted with numerous show cases, a veritable cabinet of curiosities, the visitor moves towards the bright light coming from the polar bear enclosure.

In all weathers, winter and summer alike, this observation room plays on a set of superimpositions, a foreground nearby with fish and jellyfish against a backdrop of underwater scenery. This same room is linked to the seal and walrus pools. Secondary circuits from the underwater room are available to access the banks of Quarantine Island, with views across the surrounding islands and banks. The visitor then moves on to the snow owl aviary and the wolves’ enclosure set in the existing rock relief in the place of the bears’ enclosure. Turning round, he has numerous panoramic views over the seal and walrus beaches, against the background of the sea. We then find the ptarmigan aviary and Arctic hares, fastened onto the relief. The aviary is made from metal mesh.

The visitor then comes to a taiga zone, densely wooded with conifers. The existing pine plantations will be improved with larch or spruce. The lower stratum will be mostly composed of grasses. Here we find the moose, reindeer and wolverine enclosures. The main path takes off onto a footbridge to make room for the enclosures and enable the animals to get to the shoreline. The fences are built into plantations and stony areas. So the visitor is up in the treetops and has the illusion of seeing deer by the water’s edge, of having a landscaped picture against the backdrop of the sea with the animals in the foreground. Lastly you come to more open, tundra country. It clings onto the existing rock base, to accommodate the muskox enclosure, animals that generally strip the land of all plant-life. So this will be close-cropped moorland (lichens, dwarf herbaceous willows etc.) in the adjoining areas, with rocks inside the enclosures.

A series of aviaries housing taiga birds (includes the aviary with unheated glasshouse for tundra and taiga limicolae) ends the tour, before the optional area and the beluga whale pool.

Optional area :

The island of Hylkysaarensalmi is thought out as a complex combining tourist attractions and a research centre. Its operation is independent of the zoo. Private access by boat is proposed, with separate anchorage. There are separate areas for accommodation, catering, research and spaces for seminars and students. The aquarium and the beluga whale pool, set between the two existing dykes, offer a leading attraction unique in Europe, combining an aquarium and a small café to round off the emotional experience and discovery.

However, the island is deliberately left wild, and the rocky mounds bare. Circuits are proposed to visitors to approach the pebble beaches and nature recreation areas. A verdant amphitheatre is set in the central section, where allowed by the relief, in connection with the research activities and seminars planned on the island.

The filter gardens :

These gardens, set at the foot of the drainage basin, will be used to recycle and treat water from the enclosures and monitor its quality while avoiding the major investment of a conventional treatment plant. They will make it possible to introduce an educational walk keeping visitors at a distance from the biotopes for conservation and enabling them to discover alternative waste water treatment methods.

Option for the animal collection :

As Helsinki Zoo has been heavily involved for years with in situ preservation of the Amur tiger and the Amur leopard in the Far East of Russia, and in breeding them, each species has two presentation enclosures. Other additions to the collection are two species from the same region: the Amur wildcat, a small cat adapted to the harsh climate, and the Dybowski’s sika, one of the main preys for tigers and leopards. This highlight of the collection makes for attractive communication on the role of zoos, particularly Helsinki Zoo, with regard to in situ conservation of endangered species. The beaver is added to illustrate, along with the wisent, the history of extinctions of European species caused by man, and how they have recently been saved.

Landscape option :

The Eurasia forests biome is set on the part planted with deciduous and coniferous trees in the zoo’s south-western sector. The main pathway will skirt the bison and then the brown bear enclosures. Moving up the slope, the sika enclosure, which, like the taiga deer enclosure passes under the main pathway, will introduce the section dedicated to the Amur area containing the Amur leopard, wildcat and tiger. From an educational standpoint, bringing together these species demonstrates the zoo’s involvement in animal protection programmes.

All the aviaries will be made from stainless steel mesh and their frames will blend in with the existing woodland. Lynx will also be housed in an aviary. The Amur tiger enclosure is the last in the valley. This enclosure is densely wooded around a stream flowing through the otter and the beaver enclosure on its way to the filter basins. The main pathway then moves away from the bank areas where the biotopes and ecosystems need to be preserved. However, it will be possible to approach them down a narrow secondary pontoon path.

Option for the animal collection :

Here we are bringing together species from the Tibetan plateau and the surrounding mountains. This mix, not being found in other European zoos, helps to make Helsinki Zoo even more different. For historical reasons we are keeping in this area the Alpine ibex, which offers an opportunity to evoke its close relative, the Siberian ibex. We propose to present the Himalayan thar again, an interesting species that is disappearing from our zoos. Several species are being added to the current collection for extra diversity, some of which are rare in European zoos, such as the Tibetan macaque, the musk deer, the white-lipped deer, the bharal and the black-necked crane.

Landscape option :

The landscape project will be based on the existing topography in the zoo’s western part; the rocky mass will become the base and the backdrop for the mountains of Central Asia biome. The embankment that gave a linear, artificial image of the banks is improved with scree to redraw the shoreline and give the impression that the mountain is falling into the sea. Coming away from the temperate forest biome, a space closed off by trees, the visitor is plunged into a different setting, in which the landscape becomes open and arid. The vegetation is sparse; all that is to be found on the western slope of the rock are a few creeping conifers that do not break the scale of the rocky mass. The path climbs up the cliff face so as to produce an semi-vertiginous effect halfway up.

The different species are presented one after the other. First, the Himalayan thar, then the markhor. The snow leopard, a natural predator of the barhal and the markhor, is positioned between those two enclosures to highlight the animal’s activity. The visitor continues with a view of the bearded vulture aviary, followed by a view of the ibex enclosure. All fencing is made from metal mesh and the concrete foundations are built into imitation rock and scree. Now the landscape changes, becoming more wooded as the visitor emerges into the valley. On the right, the Asiatic black bear enclosure becomes part of the scenery, while on the left, the enclosures of the dholes and the lesser pandas are set in the coniferous wooded area and scree. Here the rock is laid bare on the surface.

The visitor can then go up to the belvedere and look down at the enclosures. The belvedere is being kept, and the terrace is built into the rock so as to be out of sight when approaching by boat and from the lower path. The belvedere is not facing Helsinki alone, it also has a view over the zoo’s various landscapes and geographies. In winter, to make their visit more comfortable, visitors have access to the huts from the terrace. Going back up the main path, towards the old park, the Pukki and the end of the visit, there is one last view of the Mishmi takin and Tibetan macaque enclosures. The enclosures are set in a relief that is gentler, but dry and strewn with scree.

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