tim hart

Tim Hart

Urban Initiatives – Landscape Architecture and Exhibit design

For Tim Hart, coming together with the other members of Ark as a permanent collaboration has meant standing back from the traditional central role as the landscape architect in zoo exhibit design. But it’s a step he believes has resulted in better outcomes.

With Ark, the emphasis is not only on building a landscape that provides the animals with the requirements they need to be happy in the exhibit, but also on telling a story through that landscape that helps connect visitors with the lives of the animals and the issues they face as communities in captivity and in the wild. Literally reproducing an environment. “What we’re trying to do is conjure up an experience related to the story we’re trying to tell. You’re taking the sights and the sounds and the smells and using that to distil the essence of a place,” Tim says.

Integrating those interpretive messages and the nature of the journey from the very beginning of the design process is crucial, Tim says. Everything works together to shape the story.

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Phil Snowdon


Phil’s interest lies in creating original and contemporary architecture that is derived from natural geometries and environments. With Ark, the architectural expression becomes a seamless part of the whole experience, resulting in an integrity sometimes lacking in solutions driven solely by a functional brief.

“Our designs incorporate strong references to nature, but we’re not trying to mimic it,” Phil says. “Instead we’re creating an interesting and ‘other worldly’ space that will draw visitors in and open their minds to the new ideas they will encounter throughout the exhibit.”

To Phil the connection between the built and natural worlds allows the beginning of a discussion about how we co-habit the planet, encouraging people to consider their role in taking action towards conservation and sustainability.

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Jan Nowell

Exhibition and Interpretive Designer

Jan Nowell is passionate about wildlife and nature, and believes zoos play an important role in generating an awareness of conservation and a culture of care in children – especially urban kids. “We’ve embraced the Connect-Understand-Act strategy by giving people the sense that they are not only sharing an animal’s space but also gaining an understanding of their lives both as captive animals and in the wild.”

As an interpretative designer, Jan’s role is to create a sense of journey and experience based on a story, Jan says. “I’m good at putting myself into the shoes of the visitor and imagining what it could be like for them – how to create a fantasy journey that’s fun and that stimulates their curiosity and that’s meaningful as well.’

Jan borrows from her background as a theatre designer, using visual cues or soundscape or lighting effects to allow the experience to gradually unfold as visitors move through the exhibit. “The great thing with Ark is that we’re all working together to come up with great interpretive ideas and working at realising that via each of our media – whether it’s landscape, architecture or exhibition elements.”

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Madelon Willemsen

Life Science Specialist

Creating a complex environment that challenges and helps animals express their behavioural and psychological needs has become fundamental to modern zoo design, Madelon says. Designing an exhibit that allows for naturalistic behaviour benefits zoos in two ways – they result in happy interested animals, which are in turn more interesting for visitors to observe. “You can build this in right from the beginning of the process, which is where I come in. I can help explain what animals need to make them happy, or talk to the life scientists and keepers to get their insights into the individuals.”

Madelon came to Ark from Werribee Open Range Zoo where she worked as the General Manager of Life Sciences and was involved in planning and implementing the WORZ Masterplan as part of the WORZ Senior Executive team. She has also worked at Taronga Zoo, the Australian Wildlife Park and at Artis Zoo in Amsterdam.

With her long experience working in zoos Madelon is also able to liaise with keepers to draw out their needs and their concerns. “I understand the role that keepers place in the husbandry of their animals – they are the experts of their animals, they know how their individuals behave and have great ideas on how exhibits and management facilities should be working. I make sure that the animal needs and husbandry aspects are completely integrated in the design. I talk to the keepers, ask them lots of questions and also play an important part in helping explaining the design and relate it back to the management of the animals on a day to day basis.”