Telling people he designs zoos for a living is one of the best parts of Alex Tyler's job.
What do you do? My background in zoology and landscape architecture allows me to assimilate the natural world with the surrounding built-world, and specifically key those design efforts toward enhanced animal habitats. Utilizing both biological influences as well as modern design techniques, these new animal habitats not only increase visitor appeal while seeing the animals in the exhibit area, but also greatly increases the welfare of those animals that are in these enclosures.
How did you get started in that field? After receiving my bachelor’s in zoology, I took a job at Disney World, where I worked in the Animal Kingdom as a horticulturist and landscape designer. I absolutely fell in love with the design of the zoo itself, and immediately shadowed Disney’s on-site landscape architects. It took me two days to realize I needed to apply for graduate school to obtain my MLA (Masters in Landscape Architecture). I then was hired on by the prestigious zoo design firm The Portico Group, based here in Seattle.
What’s a typical day like? It varies tremendously depending on the current stage of the project. In preliminary design stages, there is an abundance of research and concept sketches to analyze and predict the best solution for the design of the animal’s exhibit. As the project begins to solidify, we will start taking these concept bubbles and defining them with real lines that work in a real world scenario. Communication between the client, our consultants and each other is the most crucial aspect of our work.
What’s the best part of the job? Telling people I design zoos for a living! It is a beautiful thing to be able to take an exhibit where a captive animal is unhappy or uncomfortable and transform that exhibit into a natural feeling world for the animal. After working in multiple fields of landscape architecture, I can confidently say that designing a zoo takes every facet of landscape architecture (urban design, animal welfare, conservation and water management, etc.) and bundles it into one package. Not only that, but no other type of landscape architect gets to design a barrier system for a polar bear!
What surprises people about your work? What surprises people most about my job is when I describe the complex nature of zoo design and all the details that are incorporated into this type of design. It is not just a simple solution of designing enclosures for animals, but the ability to coordinate many facets of landscape architecture all into one flowing project that involves both animals and humans.