• Client

    The Zoological Society of Philadelphia
  • Building Area

    Historic renovation 17,400 sf; New buildings 4,000 sf
  • Completion Date

  • LEED Certification


KidZooU is one of the primary components in the Philadelphia Zoo’s ongoing campus transformation. It is a project in which environmentally responsive design, adaptive reuse and client mission come together in a cohesive visitor experience.

KidZooU was conceived as an opportunity to educate families about the connections between individual actions and conservation within a fun and interactive setting. The project integrates animal exhibits and engagement with demonstration and interpretation of environmentally responsive building and site design practices. Collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of consultants, which included ecological site designers, exhibit designers, and the Zoo’s on-staff educators played a key role in the design process.

Environmental Stewardship and Client Mission

The design embraces a variety of regionally appropriate green strategies.  These initiatives are interpreted as part of the Zoo’s mission of conservation and education.  Wherever possible, these building and site systems are visibly demonstrated to guests to further enrich the environmental education experience.  The building strategies include vegetated roofs, rainwater harvesting, daylighting, ground-coupled heating and cooling, recycled content materials, animal-friendly design, and historic building adaptive reuse.  The site-wide stormwater management is supported through recharge beds, swales, raingardens, and native plantings.  The new restroom building design focuses on rainwater harvesting and daylighting, while the new stables buildings has a large vegetated roof and salvaged wood siding.

Adaptive Reuse and Restoration

The focal point of the project is the new Education Center, which is an adaptive renovation of the historic Pachyderm House.  Designed by Philadelphia architect Paul Cret in 1938, the historic structure was the original home to elephants, rhinoceroses, tapirs and hippopotamuses.  The daylighted interior included a public viewing corridor; however, limitations over the years excluded visitor access and resulted in the building’s underappreciation as simply a backdrop for the animal yards.  The new education center program reengages guests, who now enter through the same doors that were once used by the pachyderms.   The renovation includes historic restoration of doors and windows, decorative medallions, stonework, copper detailing, and the elephant weathervane that sits atop the building’s tower.  The work also provides universal accessibility, envelope upgrades and systems replacement.


The facility provides rich habitat experiences and appropriately maintainable spaces for animals, while safely engaging guests in their care.  Goats are the main attraction and enjoy the freedom to move throughout the site.  Families are first greeted overhead at the Goat Entry Bridge, and then again at the twenty-five foot tall Goat Climb, before meeting the animals face-to-face for grooming and care in the Goat Yard.  Other exterior residents of KidZooU include ducks at the main plaza, pigeons in their green-roofed coops, mini-horses at the stables, and chickens in their free-range yard.   Inside the education center, fish, insect, rat and budgie habitats team with interactive exhibits that focus on energy and water conservation.

Education and Exhibits

Throughout KidZooU, exhibit interpretation links environmental stewardship with animal conservation.  The green strategy messaging targets a variety of age groups by way of physical engagement, illustrative graphics, and detailed narrative descriptions.  The overarching mission shows kids and families how everyday actions can help save our environment – and as a result, save animals.

The scale of expansive interior spaces, originally designed for large animals, reduces to ‘kid scale’ in more intimate flexible spaces that transform from educational classrooms to exhibit spaces through movable walls, sliding panels and overhead doors.


The project has been recognized for excellence in environmentally responsive design, historic restoration and animal exhibits.

  • Groundbreaker Award from the Delaware Valley Green Building Council for environmentally responsive design.
  • Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.
  • Historic Preservation Award from Preservation Pennsylvania for historic restoration and rehabilitation.
  • The Exhibit of the Year Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for live animal display and exhibit design.