Rendering of Glacier Run Exhibit (Courtesy Louisville Zoo)
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Rendering of Glacier Run Exhibit (Courtesy Louisville Zoo)
Rendering of Glacier Run Exhibit. (Courtesy Louisville Zoo)

The Louisville Zoo continues to move forward with its Glacier Run exhibit area. Initial phases have already opened, including a splash park, but the most exciting portions are slated to come online in the next year or two. Glacier Run is set to transform the way we interact with wildlife at the Louisville Zoo and will transform the Louisville institution into a world leader in exhibit design.

The next phases of the project, Glacier Run Village, broke ground last September. The first part of the exhibit, opening in the spring of 2010, will be home to seals and sea lions. A second signature portion housing polar bears will open in 2011. Future phases for Steller’s sea eagles, sea otters, and an animal outreach center will be completed after the main exhibit opens.

Fundraising efforts gained momentum recently with $2 million in additional funding provided by the James Graham Brown Foundation, bringing the total amount raised to $20.2 million. The Louisville Zoo still needs $8.9 million more to complete the entire project and establish an endowment. Once complete, the new Glacier Run exhibit is expected to provide $33.6 million in local economic impact while providing 400 new jobs.

Glacier Run is leading the way toward innovative 21st century zoo exhibit design. The Village of Glacier Run is an old mining town set on the edge of the Arctic wilderness. The design reflects the changing shape of the human and wild environment and offers lessons on how to live in conjunction with nature. Wildlife in the exhibit is experienced in this transition zone as polar bears cross catwalks in the town and immerse the viewer in the juxtaposed human and wild habitat. According to Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak:

The Louisville Zoo is known for its award-winning, innovative exhibits and Glacier Run will continue that tradition. Not only will it communicate one of the most relevant conservation issues of our time, global climate change, it will also be the high quality, exciting experience that our visitors and community have come to expect.

This exhibit marks a shift between the pristine exhibits of the 20th century displaying animals in a simulacra of their natural habitat untouched by humans. The trend has been catching on worldwide as exhibits strive to connect animals and viewers in a more realistic and personal level.

In Vienna at the Schaunbrunn Zoo, artists Cristoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf have created an installation that takes this notion a little further. Called “Trouble in Paradise,” the installation inserts human components in stark contrast to the natural environment. Buffalo graze over railroad tracks, a rhino lounges in a pool with a submerged car, and penguins play at the foot of an oil well.

Steinbrener/Dempf wanted to confront the typical notion of “paradisical nature” to draw emphasis on the relationship between humans and the natural world. Their purpose is confrontational; to evoke a reaction from the viewer that demonstrates the sometimes stark contrast of clashing worlds. According to the artists:

Present-day conceptions of zoological gardens aim at the presentation of animals in an idyllic and apparently natural environment, untouched by civilization. But this is a contemporary conception, since courtly menageries and kennels were adapted to the exposure of animals as decorative objects. Until the early years of the 20th century, animals were part of a preferably spectacular and exotic staging, to the entertainment and amazement of the public. The artificial and the sensational were foregrounded, without creating a realistic setting of the natural environment of the animals.

The Vienna installation is only temporary and runs through mid October. The groundbreaking work at the Louisville Zoo is helping, as well, to redefine the way the public views and interacts with the natural world in transition. The innovative exhibit is sure to be a great hit when it opens in a couple years. Glacier Run at the Louisville Zoo was designed by Peckham, Guyton, Albers, & Viets of St. Louis and Arrasmith, Judd, Rapp, Chovan, Inc. of Louisville.

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Branden Klayko

1 COMMENT

  1. What a great exhibit! And a great thing for Louisville – This is the type of thing we need to focus on in terms of long-term economic solutions for our region – The Zoo is terrific – lots of memories made there!

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