The Antwerp Zoo is located in the center of Antwerp (Belgium), right next to the central railway station. It is the oldest animal park in Belgium, one of the oldest in the world, established on 21 July 1843. Since its foundation, the park has been controlled by KMDA (Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp). On 1 January 1983, the animal park was classified as a monument. In 2007 the zoo decided to expand his surface and in 2014 a new master has been redesigned. Studio Farris Architects was appointed as design architect for the design of the new restaurant, with ELD as executive architects , Benoît Fondu for the landscape and Officium for the aviary structure. The new restaurant, that accommodates 350 seats indoor and 400 outdoor, is hence located between the home of the great apes to the North and the buffalo’s habitat and aviary to the South. By means of extending the existing animal shelters on both sides, the project aims at establishing an intertwining relationship between visitors and animals: the walk-through aviary provides an unexpected experience that brings visitors closer to the birds, apes and buffalos in their natural habitat.
The building that hosts the restaurant is apparently understated in its elevation, that defines a very ample window opening towards the inner space of the zoo. In plan, however, it reveals a more distinct character and a rather complex geometry is revealed that expresses the multiple relations and interconnections with the tensile lightweight structures built around it. To the North, the restaurant visually extends, through its large glazing, into a tensile lightweight structure that protects the outdoor park where the gorillas and chimpanzees can move around. The building touches the ground with massive columns creating a sort of cave that the primates use as a shelter. To the South, the savannah landscape sits 5 meters lower than the restaurant floor, allowing visitors to admire the buffalos and birds through large glass panes. Plants were selected that are indigenous to various places and will provide shelter and food to the birds. A special passageway runs under the restaurant building, connecting the primate shelter to the North with the buffalos’ and birds’ environment to the South and allowing glimpses of the surrounding habitat through a series of windows.
Completed in June 2017, the new facilities in the Antwerp Zoo have recorded increasing visitor numbers, the public being especially enthusiastic about their unusual zoo experience. Studio Farris and its consultants were able to effectively respond to the complex needs of the animals, visitors and commercial operations of the zoo.