October 2, 2014

Honolulu Zoo – Asian Elephant Exhibit

Location:  Waikiki, Honolulu, O’ahu

Client:  Honolulu Zoo

ACEC of Hawai’i – Excellence Award 2013


The design concept for this project was to have the viewing area of the Asian elephant exhibit be more visually interactive for visitors. We wanted them to feel as if they were in nature, standing at the edge of a tropical forest in Asia, looking into a clearing where elephants would gather together at a watering hole.

The “forest edge” on both sides of the pedestrian pathway is anchored by shade providing trees that are under planted with other shrubs and ground covers. Taller plants such as Gingers and Heliconia, are planted on the north side of the path to serve as a backdrop and to help direct the visitor’s attention toward the exhibit. On the south side of the path, taller plant material was also used between viewing areas to simultaneously create visual interest and block unwanted views. Once the visitor arrives at the viewing area, lower shrubs and ground covers were chosen to highlight yet not block the exhibit. Each planting area was designed to create a sense of discovery going from viewing area to viewing area until the visitor finally reaches their desired destination.
Staying true to the design, the plants chosen either originated from South East Asia, or were Hawaiian native plants that have similar aesthetical qualities to those that would naturally exist in the South East Asian region. Edible plants such as, bananas, sugar cane and sweet potato were used where possible and had a dual purpose. They are not only aesthetically pleasing but also useful as food for the elephants and other animals in the zoo.

In side of the exhibit there are six gunnite planters each planted with a single South East Asian Narra tree that is under planted with ‘Uki‘uki, a native lily that has glossy green leaf blades, and “Ti” to provide some vertical height. The trees not only provide shade to the elephants which encourages them to be closer to the viewing areas, but they also work as a visual barrier to block the views of the back working areas of the exhibit.

An electrified naturalistic fence called, “hot grass” will be added around the top perimeter of the planters to prevent the elephants from using their trunks to pull out and eat the plants.