Minnesota Zoo calls on landscape class

Emily Dalnodar

While other students spent Monday afternoon in the classroom, a landscape architecture class went on a field trip to the Minnesota Zoo.
The Landscape Architecture Masters Program is designing a new children’s entrance to the zoo in Apple Valley. The east entrance, where buses drop children off for field trips is the project’s target.
The assignment is part of a class that second-year graduate students take as a degree requirement. Each quarter the class tackles new projects in different locations around the state. The focus of this venture, their first of the quarter, is designing a place for public gatherings.
The group of about 20 students gathered among fish tanks and fuzzy animal posters in the Discovery Bay learning room to present their ideas to zoo officials.
Posterboards and small-scale models showed two-dimensional designs and three-dimensional plans for how the completed entrance will look pending the use of a student’s idea.
“We have an existing pathway that we need to upgrade,” said Tom Schiltz, project manager for the Minnesota Zoo.
The area has been a problem for about 20 years, he added, citing handicap accessibility and aesthetics as some of the problems.
When the University stepped in, plans to renovate were already in progress.
“But when we found this out, we stopped all forward progress,” said Schiltz of the class’ interest.
Schiltz will take the ideas from Monday’s presentation back to other zoo officials. They then will make selections from the students’ designs. There is no time frame for a decision, but it is likely a compilation of the projects will go into the final draft, he said.
After a final decision is made, an outside contractor will do the actual work.
“Our role is to provide ideas,” said Roger Martin, professor of landscape architecture and instructor of the course. “We can’t move beyond this. It goes to the professional community.”
Martin said the students have been very positive about the experience. The idea, he said, is to provide an opportunity to work on real projects and see the ideas accepted by clients.
“This is, indeed, a challenging class,” said T. Harikrishnan, a graduate student in landscape architecture. “Not only is it difficult to design the place, but to design it as people would feel it.”
Harikrishnan’s project included a life-sized whale in a pond of water. The whale would be made of marble so it can imitate the slimy texture of a real whale, he said.
Maureen Casey, another student in the program, said she would’ve liked a little more time to do research on other zoos and gathering spaces. But she added she had fun doing the assignment and thinks it will help her prepare for a job after graduation.