How to Become a Zoo Designer

Zoo displays are becoming increasingly more sophisticated as our knowledge of animals and their environments increases. Displays of animals in cages grouped by animal families are giving way to larger, more natural and more visually interesting displays by geography and by habitat. This change of approach has led to the creation of a new career: zoo designer, which marries knowledge of animals and the environment with skill in architectural design. If this sounds like an interesting new career to you, then read the steps below on how to become a zoo designer.


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    Know where the zoo designer jobs are. Major zoos, such as the San Diego Zoo, the Bronx Zoo and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum employ their own staffs of zoo designers, while other zoos contract with firms that specialize in zoo design or architectural design firms that design zoo buildings and exhibits as part of their work. Larger firms that specialize in zoo design include CLRdesign of Philadelphia, PGAV of St. Louis, Torre Design Consortium of New Orleans and the Portico Group, Jones and Jones and PJA of Seattle. Seattle also boasts 2 smaller firms, and small zoo design firms can be found in Wichita, Kansas and Lima, Ohio.
    • Much of the future zoo design work is projected to be in developing countries around the world, particularly in places such as Brazil, China, India and Indonesia. There is presently a small zoo design firm, Bernard Harrison and Friends, located in Singapore. Accordingly, much of a zoo designer's time is spent traveling to zoos around the country or in other countries.
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    Consider what aspect of designing zoos interests you most. If you prefer working on small projects designing and building individual zoo buildings or exhibits, you'll want to develop skills similar to those who design and build museums. If you prefer working on larger projects such as duplicating a particular natural habitat or even designing an entire zoo, you'll want to develop skills as a landscape architect.
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    Take college classes that support your zoo design ambitions. In addition to coursework in exhibit design, landscape architecture or architecture in general, you should have classes in drafting and computer aided design, technical writing and technical illustration. You'll also need classes in biology, zoology, ecology, geology, geography and climatology, as well as business classes.
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    You can either major in one of the design fields and minor in zoology, or you can return to school after acquiring a degree in zoology to get a second degree in design. In most cases, it's easier for someone with design skills to learn the knowledge of animal habitats than for someone with purely a zoological background to pick up the design skills, but either approach is valid if you develop strong zoo design skills. You'll most likely work closely with the zoo's own animal experts.


  • Working as a zoo designer may involve long hours, with 60-hour weeks being common, as well high-pressure situations, particularly those related to deadlines for completing an exhibit.

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Categories: Architecture and Design Occupations