Being a lone wolf is not a good thing if you are zoo architect. No, in fact, we’ve found after 25 years of consulting, our best designs happen when we work like a wolf pack, each individual bringing their own skills to benefit the overall team. At WDM Architects, our “pack” looks to the natural world to inspire the projects our team designs. So much so that it has inspired how we function.
After recently reflecting on why WDM’s zoo studio team is so effective I realized that it’s literally in our nature … it’s biological!
Whether in a Bornean lowland rainforest or a 3-story historic building in Downtown Wichita, embracing a few very important ecological concepts can lead to success: Niche, Diversity, Adaptation, Mutualism, and Evolution.
Architects are usually considered “generalists”, but at WDM, our Zoo Team has a highly specialized niche within the architectural community. Within our own team, each member has a specialized role they typically fill. Principals Matt Schindler, Scott Ramser and me, Drew Jordan, are our zoo studio leaders and lead Project Managers. Our role is to oversee the coordination, design, development, and documentation of each project while leading all facets of the zoo team. Matt, Scott and I work closely with Steve Hofhine, Lukas Kostka and Jenna Sedovic, our team’s zoological designers, to develop a conceptual framework and/or thematic storyline for each project. Then we take these concepts and develop all aspects of the project, which might include grading, planting, containment, viewing structures, and thematic environments to name a few.
While we each have a niche to fill, our zoo work encompasses many different building types including animal housing buildings, public interpretation spaces, restaurants, learning centers, entry buildings, and many more. For these projects, our core zoo team often uses the talents of Principal Stan Landwehr and Luke Scott for additional architectural support. Some projects also utilize the talents of our Interior Designer Angi Womeldorff. This “pack” of professionals each fills a niche in our zoo design ecosystem and together create projects that engage, educate, and inspire.
Whether it’s Matt’s organizational efficiency, Scott’s relentless energy, Stan’s focus on detail, Jenna’s hand renderings, Lukas’s exhibit construction expertise, Steve’s encyclopedic knowledge of animals or my obsession with the natural world, every member brings a unique and diverse perspective to the team.
One of our strengths as a design team is to adapt to each project and client. There are no “cookie-cutter” solutions in zoo design. Each one of us is well versed in the many facets of zoological design and can assist on another project in a moment’s notice. It is through our experience and diversity we are able to adapt and succeed.
Mutualism is the concept of two species working together in which both benefit. This is seen on a daily basis at WDM. We pride ourselves in our constant collaboration both with our clients and within our zoo team. For some projects an internal charette approach is taken where we come together as a zoo studio to challenge and inspire each other. This mutualistic environment fosters great zoological design and benefits everyone involved.
Zoos, just like the natural world, are constantly evolving. As such, so must our zoo design team. WDM’s zoo team makes every effort to channel each of the above biological concepts to design successful projects but stay fluid in our approach. The same design approach does not work for every client and we pride ourselves in our ability to adapt and evolve our thinking to meet the goals and vision of the client.
When all these biological concepts work together the result is a thriving, sustainable team of dedicated professionals. We use our vast experience to not only learn from the past but to help inform a vision for the future. We are a resilient “pack” of zoological designers never shying away from the ever-changing landscape of zoo design.