Zoo Facilities

Phoenix Zoo: Entry Oasis

Addressing Entry Congestion

In 2008, the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation, or commonly known as the Phoenix Zoo, retained WDM Architects for a comprehensive master planning of their zoo, the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo in the United States. The plan identified work that would improve guest experience and animal welfare in a series of phased improvements. Addressing the bottleneck at the zoo entry was a priority of Phase I.


“Zoo experience starts in the parking lot.” — Scott Ramser, Principal Architect

Previously, the entry was indicated at the parking lot by a cartoonish blue globe mounted on a painted stucco pergola. Guests walked from the parking lot, crossed a bridge and waited in line at the zoo’s four ticket booths. The mostly open air structure also served as the entry checkpoint for all guests. With 1.5 million visitors annually, the entry queue simply wasn’t big enough for that volume. All too often, guests waited in a long line, standing on the bridge in the desert sun. Zoo members, also, had to wait in line with those who were purchasing tickets.

Rammed earth: The Entry Oasis comes together

Rammed earth construction was chosen for the Entry. The mottled appearance and the natural variations of color in the native soil cannot be replicated with synthetic materials. The surrounding rock and sand formations of ‘Camel Back Mountain’ and ‘Hole in the Rock’ were the design inspiration. The redesigned entry now elegantly pays tribute to those local landmarks by merging seamlessly with the environment and simultaneously being bold and distinctive.

This was the first rammed earth project for WDM principal Scott Ramser, and it was so successful that it was used again for the zoo’s Administration Building design.

Alternating solid and perforated roof panels protect guests from the harshness of the Arizona sun without denying a connection to omni-present blue skies. Triangular, sail-shaped shade structures were also added to the entry and the bridge.

Phoenix Zoo Entry Oasis Case Study By WDM Architects 1

The Solution

The solution to entry congestion is two-fold:

  1. Increasing the number of windows from 4 to 13
  2. Dividing ticket sales from ticket-taking

The new design offers 6 manned ticket windows, 4 self-serve ticket machines and 3 member ticket windows for guests arriving from the parking lot. Members and those who have purchased tickets on-line can bypass this stop and proceed directly across the bridge to enter through the turnstiles.

Phoenix Zoo’s Winter Lights is the busiest time of the year — 10,000 people visit a night.

Since ticket-taking is not transactional, no payments or decisions are made, it is a very brief action to entry. Thus, by spreading out the queuing process, daily visitors, members and large groups can all pulse through the sequence with greater efficiency.

Bringing Guest Services Under One Roof

Another facet of this project was increasing the efficiency of zoo operations by combining various guest service departments, which were previously scattered across the park into a singular location adjacent the ticket turnstiles. The previous ticket booths at the end of the bridge were converted into a new structure for guest services. Visitors can access wagons and wheelchairs, book an event venue, make donations, buy an annual membership or receive first aid all in one location.

Zoo visitors can view a native species aviary and desert tortoise exhibit at the guest services building before entering the turnstile.

Measure of Success

“Our old entrance had a single point of entry which had people standing in line for long periods of time and not always happy about it,” says Bert Castro, Phoenix Zoo President and CEO. “The beautiful new entry allows us to manage high attendance days more efficiently. And it’s been a night and day difference!”

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Project Overview


6,000 s.f. buildings on 1.5 acres


$3.8 million



Phoenix Zoo Entry Oasis Portfolio Project

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