As a large engineering design firm, we often find ourselves dealing with interesting clients and projects, but this particular assignment was an unusually wild one. Koalas are set to be introduced to the Wilhelma zoo in Stuttgart for the first time, where they will fascinate visitors big and small. Along with the kangaroo, the koala is Australia’s best-known animal and is rarely seen in zoos in Germany, mainly due to the fact that its diet of certain eucalyptus species presents a major challenge.

From Requiring Renovation to Being Livable

Terra Australis is being built in the old ape house, a listed building that was completely gutted for this purpose and is now being gradually renovated. The building was constructed in 1973 and is in need of renovation following its lengthy and intensive use. New indoor and outdoor enclosures will be built there as part of the renovation. The visitor and zookeeper areas – including all technical building services facilities – are also being redesigned.

The planned building extends over three equal sections in a stepped arrangement. Daylight animals such as koalas and tree kangaroos will move into the first section of the building when it is completed. The other two sections will be used as a nocturnal area and as a space for quokkas, bilbies, quolls and other small animals. In the rear of the enclosures, there are containment enclosures, care areas and staffrooms for the zookeepers.

Fichtner Bauconsulting Plans the New Technical Building Services

Fichtner Bauconsulting was contracted to plan the technical building services (instrumentation and control systems as well as HVAC, sanitary and electrical systems) and to supervise construction. All building services are being tailored to use by animals and visitors.

The special features of the project are the renewable use of rainwater for cooling the intake air and the different requirements of diurnal and nocturnal animal areas during visiting hours. The interplay between the designers’ planning and the technology is particularly challenging. For example, all of the enclosures have wall heating hidden in the artificial rock and each of the three building sections has its own ventilation system.


The Needs of the Demanding Little Residents

While all this might sound simple, it presented our planners with considerable challenges because, after all, who is familiar with the requirements of such exotic creatures? At what temperature do koalas feel comfortable, and what requirements do the animals have in terms of light and equipment? Unlike in normal residential buildings, there are no standards that the planners can refer to. Especially the nocturnal species require special lighting conditions so that they feel comfortable and visitors can observe them during the day. The exotic plants also have special requirements and would quickly wither without special lighting. What’s more, sun protection is a major issue for Australia’s animals, so a glass roof with sun protection was planned in Building Section 1. A lighting simulation for sunrise and sunset with moonlight was installed for the animals in Sections 2 and 3, while the sound equipment for planned live feedings also had to be sized and incorporated in advance.

Form Does Not Follow Function

In addition to the high technical demands, a lot of emphasis is also being placed on a contemporary and appealing design as well as a holistic renovation. This means that our planners have to adhere closely to the design guidelines – such as the applied artificial rock – in all components. Unlike with a new-build, you have to make do with the conditions and possibilities provided by the existing building, which often becomes a major challenge because of the many ceiling suspensions and modeled landscapes.

For Fichtner Bauconsulting, the Terra Australis project is certainly something of a rarity. Planning a refuge for rare animals with special needs regarding their environment has its own special appeal. Reconciling the technical building services with the design of Terra Australis was a challenge that was successfully met. The end result is a place that is equally attractive for the animals, Wilhelma’s staff and visitors.