Calypso Zoo

2011
Large Scale Landscape Studio

University Of Waterloo
A mythic world extending into Lake Ontario

Very few projects encompass an entire portion of the urban landscape. In this studio, the realisation of a zoo formed the basis. In hopes of designing a different way of approaching typical animalistic enclosure as a problem of architecture, the design of the zoo meant to think about the human-animal relationship in a different way. Calypso Zoo hopes to encompass a cultural narrative with our natural world, instead of the widespread approach of scientific and ecological study. Much like its namesake, the zoo hopes to unfurl the cultural embodiment of a small selection of animals, where visitors and spectators experience those mythic narratives first hand, to fully understand the impact those animals had on their respective cultures.

Calypso is a progressive narrative. Utilising the approach as a method of revealing the embedded culture of a certain species, the state of being in these tales impregnate the visitor’s experience. The journey begins at the gate of the zoo: a nondescript train platform at the entrance of a forest. A train appears and visitors board; they are taken on a journey into the mysterious woods. After a short train ride, a small, misty clearing is its destination. Above, they see an eagle ominously circling above. In the midst of this forest roams a wolf, the Svaðilfari, waiting to pounce.

Visitors file into the zoo. Upwards through the lobby, they arrive at a bright white floor of glassy and mirrored columns. Through its refractions and reflections, the image of the Nemean Lion permeates every surface of this glassy maze. The floor is a labyrinth, and a hidden exit stair stands in its midst.

As visitors climb upwards, glimpses of the outside world come into view; the misty forest is smaller than first imagined. At the next floor, they arrive at the fox’s lair. The Japanese mascots of mischief overlook visitors on this floor of shifting platforms. They live high above the chaos, and their shadows shifts as one traverse the obstacles to the stair reaching to the next floor.

Once again, visitors continue upward a set of stairs. Those glimpses to the outside become more frequent; the skyline of the city, as well as the lake beyond comes into view. Through the next set of doors, the visitors enter into a quiet and peaceful floor. The entire floor is dark; the sole source of illumination comes from a large tree at the centre of the floor. This floor is fenced off, and visitors are unable to reach the centrepiece. In this enclosure, four red deer, the guardians of the Yggdrasil, graze the fields and tree peacefully. Visitors shuffle towards the next threshold.

As the climb through the zoo ascends higher, they notice the building extends into an artificial body of water. Reaching the top of this level, they enter a sanctuary of iridescent glow. Faceted crystal windows flood the space with light, and watchful peafowls of Argus are free to roam this paradise.

Beyond the peafowl café, visitors soon reach the rooftop level. An unparalleled view of the city becomes the backdrop. The eagle circles the premises, and a watchful and protective aura replaces its formerly ominous one. With peace, visitors retreat to the building and descend via a lift.

The elevator cabin descends beyond the ground floor into an underground level. Stepping out, visitors enter an all-glass tunnel submerged in water. Dolphins swim in and around the glass tunnel, and visitors are one with the creatures. These Dionysian dolphins once shared forms with humans, but are now bound to the waters forever. The glass passageway abruptly ends with a wall of solid black granite.

Through the wall, visitors reach a large, open-air court. All the walls are streaming and dripping with water, overflown from the adjacent bodies of water. In this parted sea, a library and theatre stand. Through their cleaved part, a narrow path dripping with water beckons visitors; this is the way to the exit.

Calypso Zoo is a concealed narrative. Only by immersing oneself into the space will they experience the intentions of every enclosure. The intention is to utilise architecture to embody the cultural connotations of every creature. Every enclosure is a separate world, a distant universe from one another.

Returning to our journey, visitors enter another glass tunnel through the granite part. Salmon of the Haida peoples surrounds them. With the slightest increment, the path widens and ascends. Eventually, the top of the ramp ends in a boardwalk skimming the surface of this body of water. At the end, a small train station awaits. A train awaits the visitors’ departure. As the train pulls away, they see the edge of the ominous forest, and the train enters a tunnel before returning to the city.

Calypso is a new world unlike any other. It utilises a cultural and symbolic narrative to explore its understanding of the animals whom live in our world. Calypso is an island, a mythic realm designed to take visitors to a new plane.

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© Dennis Tang 2017