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Inside the Design Evolution of the Modern Zoo

Author Natascha Meuser describes zoo architecture as a “masquerade” that borrows from museums, prisons, and theaters.
Enclosure for Asian elephants at Copenhagen Zoo, designed by Foster + Partners and completed in 2008.
Enclosure for Asian elephants at Copenhagen Zoo, designed by Foster + Partners and completed in 2008.© Natascha Meuser

This year, more than 181 million people in the U.S. will visit a zoo. Globally, in cities from London to Beijing to San Diego, zoos are major tourist attractions and beloved local amenities. But how many visitors pay attention to the architecture as well as the animals? According to Natascha Meuser, not enough.

Frustrated at the lack of unified literature on zoo design, Meuser, an architecture professor at Germany’s Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, wrote the book she wanted to read. Zoo Buildings: Construction and Design Manual (DOM Publishers, $99.95) is in equal parts a history of zoo design, a manual for animal-enclosure best practices, and a choose-your-own-adventure of visual case studies.