At Last, Buildings That Unify

Event: Architects in Training 2008: Jose E. Serrano Center for Global Conservation at the Bronx Zoo
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.13.08
Speakers: Sylvia Smith, AIA, LEED AP — Principal, FXFowle Architects; Kenneth Hutchinson — Deputy Director of Operations, Wildlife Conservation Society; Marc Heiman — President/COO, Richter+Ratner
Moderator: James Fischer, AIA, RIBA, Ph.D. — Co-chair, AIANY International Committee
Organizer: AIANY Emerging NY Architects (ENYA) Committee

Serrano Center

Jose E. Serrano Center for Global Conservation at the Bronx Zoo.

FXFowle Architects

The perspectives of owner, architect, and construction manager often differ greatly. Not this time. That’s the belief of the panelists discussing the Jose E. Serrano Center for Global Conservation at the Bronx Zoo.

From the client’s point of view, fitting the divisions of International Programs, Exhibition and Graphic Arts Design, Information Technology, and Public Affairs into one affordable building was the main challenge, according to deputy director of operations Kenneth Hutchinson at the Wildlife Conservation Society. The building needs to accommodate employees a well as VIPs and visitors at conferences and meetings. And it must be sited so as not to interfere with park visitors.

Achieving LEED Gold certification was one of the main objectives for Sylvia Smith, AIA, LEED AP, principal at FXFowle Architects. Earth berms, open work areas, a reduced number of offices, and recycled and reused materials were all used. One of the building’s unique features is the on-site cogeneration plant providing off-grid electricity. Also, glass with a UV film is used throughout making the building fully bird-safe. In trying to maintain a small footprint, circulation was key to design. A large exterior ramp eliminates some of the need for space-eating stairways, and provides courtyard areas that serve conference/meeting areas.

For the general contractor, difficulties lie in satisfying both the needs of the client while sticking to the architect’s vision — and value engineering throughout the process. Marc Heiman, president/COO at Richter+Ratner, discussed sticky issues such as unexpected bedrock locations found despite pre-construction tests, the unforeseen need for a sub-slab drainage system, and the unanticipated conflict with the zoo when the Amish contractor who was to reconstitute trees cleared for the building arrived with horse and buggy (a violation of zoo policy that prohibits the intermixing of animals). One of the biggest challenges was executing “architectural concrete” under budget — Smith called it “concrete with care” instead. Also, Heiman’s team had never built a cogeneration plant, and needed to put one team member in charge of doing needed research.

The building is still under construction with an expected opening date this August. In summing up the experience to this point, Smith commented that the relationships may have been adversarial at times, but the overall attitude has always been to work through the issues to preserve cost, schedule, and architecture.