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Birmingham, Alabama

GMC worked with the Birmingham Zoo to create a master plan as well as design the New Arrival Experience and Asian Passage for Alabama’s most popular tourist destination with 450,000 visitors a year.

24,887 square feet

The zoo was established in its current location in 1951 with administration buildings added in the 1970s. The design team was commissioned to design new administration buildings, a gateway plaza entrance, parking, and an event lawn for one of Alabama’s most popular tourist destination.

There was a full design team collaboration on location with zoo staff, the design team, and stakeholders for positioning of the new administration buildings, to form a gateway plaza that would handle the flow of large crowds, be a venue for events, and command a dramatic view of the overall zoo using native materials and sustainable stormwater management.

Upon entering, guests are welcomed by a circular paved area, featuring the profiles of the zoo animals etched in stone, enhancing the central plaza. Beyond the plaza, the space opens up to the event lawn. This lawn allows large groups to gather and is sloped so that visitors can sit and view entertainment featured on the south end stage. Circular stone formations provide seating for informal groups at the upper end of the lawn, along with a naturalistic play area with a shredded wood carpet and wood form structures that encourage interactive play.

One unique feature of this site is the spring that provided water to the original ponds. Now it flows under the event lawn. Special drainage infrastructure was developed to keep the lawn dry and harvest the water in an underground cistern. This water is used to irrigate the lawn, plaza, and rooftop gardens. Overflow of the cistern provides water for the flamingo exhibit downstream of the event lawn and makes its way to nearby Shades Creek.