Bath firms team up to help create African forest habitat for at-risk species on Bristol’s doorstep

January 26, 2024

Bath architectural practices Grant Associates and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios are working with conservation and education charity Bristol Zoological Society to create a new home for some of the world’s most critically endangered species.

Construction of the new central African forest habitat, pictured, on the Zoological Society’s Bristol Zoo Project site will begin this spring following planning approval.

It will be home to Western lowland gorillas and cherry-crowned mangabeys – who will be living together for the first time in a UK zoo – as part of ambitious plans to conserve and protect some of the world’s most threatened species.

The gorillas, currently resident in the Society's now-closed Bristol Zoo Gardens, will be joined by a new group of mangabeys, along with critically endangered slender-snouted crocodiles, endangered African grey parrots and several extremely threatened species of West African freshwater fish.

The Society described the development as a major step forward in its plan to create a new, cutting-edge conservation zoo on Bristol’s doorstep, where at least 80% of species will be connected to its conservation work in the UK and around the world.

Landscape architect Grant Associates, best known for its innovative work on Singapore’s renowned Gardens by the Bay, has been responsible for leading the design of the overall habitat and siting of viewing spaces. 

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, which last year secured a coveted Stirling Prize shortlisting for its University of Warwick Faculty of Arts Building, has designed the buildings to blend seamlessly into the landscape and provide rich educational spaces for visitors.

The gorillas and mangabeys will be living in an area four-and-a-half times the size of the gorillas’ current home.

The Central African Forest will make the most of the wooded area of the Society’s 136-acre site, near Junction 17 of the M5. 

It has been designed to evoke a sense of the dense forest and landscape of Equatorial Guinea, where the Society runs one of its largest conservation projects focused on gorillas and other threatened forest species.

Like the attraction’s award-winning Bear Wood, the new habitat will have integrated learning spaces, enabling students, visitors and schoolchildren to observe, record and appreciate animals in a natural scene, connecting people to threatened wildlife and animals in an immersive landscape.

Grant Associates senior associate James Clarke said: &ldquoOur challenge has been to create a world-class conservation habitat that provides a stimulating and healthy living environment for these threatened species. 

“Leading a great team, we have worked to carefully deliver a design that meets the needs of the gorillas and mangabeys, while balancing numerous technical constraints to preserve the character of this historic setting and retain as many high-quality and long-established trees as possible. 

“Careful consideration has been given to every element of the habitat's design, from the siting of the gorilla and crocodile houses, to the moat and viewing spaces whilst offering visitors a rare glimpse into the lives of these fascinating yet critically endangered creatures.

Grant Associates founder Andrew Grant added: “Creating a new home for Bristol Zoo Project’s western lowland gorillas within the mature landscape of the zoo's site is another highlight in our mission to reconnect people to the natural world.

“Building on our work with Bristol Zoo and its conservation of blue-eyed black lemurs in Madagascar, this new project adds another special and endangered species to the list of biodiversity conservation projects we are working on around the world.”

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios partner Marcus Rothnie said the project would provide an immersive, landscape-led conservation zoological experience for visitors.

“The animals will have generously-scaled spaces that reflect their native environments, adopting world-class animal management design standards,” he added. 

“We have designed the buildings as a series of tidy, quiet volumes sitting within the existing woodland, framing and enabling an exciting landscape-centred visitor experience. 

“This marks the first stage of our innovative emerging proposals for Bristol Zoological Society, designed from the ground up around educating and connecting people with global conservation work and encouraging sustainable behaviours through a great day out.”

As well as the upcoming works, there are also plans for a Central African savannah habitat, with black rhinos and ostriches joining giraffes, zebras and cheetahs, as well as improvements to the existing walled garden, including the creation of new aviaries.

Bristol Zoo Project is already home to animals from around the world including wolves, bears, lynx, deer, ostrich, gelada baboons and lemurs.

Last week Bath Business News reported on Grant Associates’ innovative design work at Terminal 2 at Kempegowda International, near Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) in India, which puts nature and biodiversity at the heart of the passenger experience.



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