Edmonton Zoo Makira Outpost

Pavilion a first in new sustainable development plan for lemurs

The main approach skirted by the moat. The Valley Zoo Makira Outpost provides indoor and outdoor accommodation for lemurs and visitors, and is the first building to adopt the new sustainable development principles of the zoo’s master plan.

by Troy Smith and Laura Plosz

Lemurs are native to the island of Madagascar, and most remaining species are now listed as endangered or threatened - largely due to habitat loss from deforestation. While conservation of lemurs in Madagascar is a high priority, the country’s poor economic situation and the lemurs’ limited range make protection and preservation an ongoing struggle.
Edmonton’s Valley Park Zoo is part of an international network of facilities supporting conservation through a captive breeding program. The name, Makira Outpost, reflects the support of the Wildlife Conservation project in the Makira forest of Madagascar.
The outpost exemplifies several sustainable development principles including utilizing the location on the edge of an ‘urban wilderness’ as well as developing unique, sustainable approaches to shelter and service.

Additionally, the overall treatment of exhibition spaces addresses the visitor experience through the implementation of landscape solutions in keeping with the park setting, rather than through architectural solutions that would superimpose an urban context.
The project creates a living environment for four species of lemurs, together with a variety of viewing experiences for the zoo visitor. The public components include four climatically-controlled indoor exhibition spaces, an indoor viewing vestibule, two fenced outdoor exhibition spaces, and one open exhibition space protected by a moat. Linkages are provided between exhibition areas allowing the lemurs to move between the various spaces.

The project focus on conservation is exemplified by a number of sustainable design strategies as well as programming linkages. The outpost occupies a previously developed but unused site, and was carefully inserted to minimize disturbance to soil, trees and existing circulation routes. The exterior landscaped environment utilizes local tree and plant species to minimize water usage, while the interior of the building features a 7ft. high living wall of tropical plants.

The facility requires 15 air changes per hour, which can represent a considerable heating load in the colder months of the year. Large areas of glass are used to capture solar heat and help drive the natural air displacement ventilation system. Heat recovery further reduces energy consumption.

Three principles guided the project development and the integration of sustainable attributes:

1. Roof as Landscape
The conceptual design and detailing of architectural elements furthers the articulation of the roof as an abstracted tree canopy within the lemur habitat. The concrete ‘trunks’ of the tree columns terminate in steel collars giving way to angled HSS tube ‘branches’ that support the glulam beams of the roof ‘canopy’. Discrete steel to wood connections enhance the floating appearance of the roof.

The seemingly random positioning of the columns locates each within the interior spaces, rather than within the walls, allowing the columns to become play structures for the lemurs. In addition to integrating structural elements into the overall expression, lighting is also incorporated into the column design, limiting the need for additional fixtures within the space.

2. Continuity of Space
Interior spaces flow to the exterior through glazed walls, allowing visitors to follow the movement of the lemurs, both visually and physically, from inside to outside. This connection is supported by the glazing placement, the continuation of the structural system outside the building, and the strongly articulated roof plane.

The outpost provides a variety of viewing experiences for the visitor: close-up through the full-height glazing of the viewing vestibule, or from a greater distance through semi-transparent steel ‘phantom’ mesh around the east and west exhibition areas.

3. Water as Fence
The third viewing experience is created through the use of water. A 10ft. wide moat provides containment of the lemurs, separation from the visitors, and uninterrupted views of the animals in a naturalized habitat that retains two mature elm trees.
The Makira Outpost predated [and possibly precipitated] the adoption of sustainable design standards by the city of Edmonton for all municipally-funded projects. The integration of architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and landscape systems is clearly the result of a collaborative design process -a process that became a valuable tool for educating an important and influential client body.

The project’s success can be measured by the positive response of staff and users and also by the recognition received from zoo peers in the recently awarded Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s prize for habitat enrichment.

The way in which lemurs might measure the success of the building is more difficult to quantify, although the birth of two baby lemurs [a first at the Valley Zoo] since the opening gives some indication that the facility provides a safe and comfortable place for them to live.

Troy Smith, AAA, MRAIC, LEEP AP and Laura Plosz, AAA, MRAIC, LEEP AP are Associates with Group2 in Edmonton.

extra material not published in the magazine:


  • Client: City of Edmonton,
  • Architect: Group2 Architecture and Engineering Ltd., Edmonton,
  • Structural: Walter Chambers & Associates Ltd., Edmonton,
  • Mechanical/Electrical: Hemisphere Engineering Inc., Edmonton,
  • Landscape: Eidos Consultants Inc., Edmonton,
  • Contractor: Lorac Construction, Edmonton,
  • Photos: Robert Lemermeyer, Calgary


  • Structure: Cast-in-place concrete columns with HSS steel ‘branches’ connecting to glulam roof beams by Western Archrib; profiled metal roof deck by Vicwest, with Soprema SBS roofing; concrete masonry walls finished with rigid foam insulation and cement board siding, aluminum curtain wall, windows and doors by U.S. Aluminum; wire mesh exhibit enclosure; lighting Cooper, AimLite and Moldcast
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