Cincinnati Zoo Painted Dog Exhibit

Cincinnati Zoo Painted Dog Exhibit

The Painted Dog Exhibit is the fourth phase of the overall Africa Exhibit. Each phase has been designed to open one year apart from each other as the new showcase exhibit for the new season. Phasing the different stages of Africa is also dictated by available funding. Each phase, however, is separate unto itself although part of an overall exhibit: Africa.

The Africa IV project is composed of a new open-air Painted Dog Exhibit, its associated holding building, and the public viewing area surrounding the exhibit. The entire exhibit is open-air and does not have any enclosed, public spaces. The overall exhibit is designed to provide the most realistic habitat for each of the species and the Zoo’s guests. Painted Dogs are generally found in South and East Africa and live in the Plains or Savannah region. Our intent is to immerse the Zoo’s guests into a habitat as close as possible to the indigenous areas of the Painted Dog. Through the use of typography, simulated rockwork (made to look like the rock in Africa), naturalistic water elements, flora to simulate plants in Africa and disguising the surrounding urban environment, the team has created an immersive exhibit for the zoo’s guests that truly replicates the natural environment of each species and creates a bond between human and animal that is rarely duplicated in any other urban setting.


Certification Status Petal Certified
Version of LBC 2.1
Location Cincinnati, OH, USA
Typology Landscape + Infrastructure
Project Area 16,421 SF
Start of Occupancy December 2014
Owner Occupied Yes
Occupancy Type Animal Holding
Number of Occupants 3 animal keepers and 9 Painted Dogs


Owner Cincinnati Zoo
Owner Representative Mark Fisher - Sr. Director of Facilities & Sustainability
Project Director/Manager Tony James - Director of Facilities
Architect Cornette-Violetta Architects
Contractor HGC Construction
Mechanical Mechanical Edge LLC
Electrical B&J Electric
Plumbing Carrigan & Grimm Plumbing
Lighting Design Professional Engineering Services, Inc.
Geotechnical Thelen Associates
Civil ME-IBI Group
Landscape Cincinnati Zoo Horticulture Department
Structural Schaefer Inc.
Specialty Consultant and Role Hellmuth-Bicknese Architects - Document Review
Key Subcontractors Metcon, Scott Ranz Construction, Cost of Wisconsin, Structural Systems Repair Group, Evers Welding, Neiheisel Steel, Zoo Maintenance Department, Jaco Waterproofing, DM Norris Company, Acme Lock, Geiger Construction, Keith Clayton Painting, FG Schaefer, Bill Spade Heating & Cooling, Sehlhorst Equipment Services, Security Fence Group
Other Elastizell Systems
Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta

01. Limits To Growth

The landscape in the African Painted Dog exhibit replaced a parking lot that existed for many years. There were no old soils or large trees to save. This is a good example of what designers face when dealing with an urban landscape. The challenge was to create an ecosystem where once there was a parking lot and to carefully start a landscape that will one day become a thriving ecosystem. In order to accomplish this, the team planted a variety of plant material and used the entire range of plants including large, medium and small trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses and vines. Many of the herbaceous perennials bring in pollinators as well. The intensive green roof is another element of the landscape. The building is planted with a variety of trees and shrubs to provide shading and cooling not only to the building, but also to the surrounding paved areas. Trees that have a wide spreading habit were put in for this reason. Overall, the landscape is planted to provide the animals and visitors with shading and beauty while also providing habitat for more species than just the African Painted Dogs.

Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta

The project team took health considerations for both the Painted Dogs and the keepers into account in the design. For the short-term health of the dogs, there is plenty of yard space to run and play with each other. There is also a moat for them to splash around in on hot days. The long-term health of the dogs was considered in the design of the ramps which were made to the lowest possible slopes. The ramps were also given ribs to make climbing them easier. The keepers’ health while caring for the dogs was also taken into account by the ease of use of all the mechanics in the building from the pulley systems for the transfer doors to constant exhaust of the building to flush the space of any odors.

10. Biophilia

One of the main mission statements for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens involves Conservation and Education (and/or Conservation through Education). The Painted Dog Exhibit was conceived and designed as a full immersion exhibit so guests can experience the natural habitat of the African Painted Dog. By fully immersing guests into the Painted Dog’s habitat, it is possible to convey the natural beauty of not only the animal, but also the surroundings that make up their natural home in Africa. Only by this full immersion is it possible to fully convey to guests the need to preserve such a delicate habitat. The zoo is also dedicated to local conservation efforts, and by explaining the ongoing ramifications of lost habitats across the globe, the zoo educates visitors about the importance of conserving Earth’s natural resources before it is too late.

Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta

The project team took great consideration in the design and product specification for this project. During the Design Phase, the team considered the systems contributing towards meeting net zero requirements along with the complex Materials Petal initiatives and their short-term and long-term impacts on the project. In the Construction Phase, the team worked diligently to reduce waste. All waste that was removed from the site was carefully sorted in an offsite facility and recycled appropriately. The goals for the Operation Phase of the Materials Petal were achieved by providing several collection receptacles for all waste types. All of these waste types are collected in a centralized location of the Zoo where they are sorted and disposed of properly (through either local recycling centers or compost facilities). End of Life Phasing was also a major factor during the Design Phase. From the beginning, the decision was made to design and construct a 100+ year building that would eliminate the need to tear down and rebuild the facility due to material failure, design inflexibility, or the use of short-life materials. The durability of selected materials will reduce the impacts of raw material extraction, product manufacture, transport, and disposal typically associated with long-term building maintenance.

11. Red List

The project team found that most of their specified products were relatively easy to source regionally and were free of Red List ingredients. They did, however, encounter several challenges during construction. Since the project is an exhibit for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, providing a pleasing experience for the visitors as well as creating an exhibit that the animals will thrive in is paramount. Part of the struggle came from the large glass viewing structure which was slated to be constructed with FSC pressure treated rounds. It was very important to the theming of the project that the shade structure resemble a primitive African shade structure. However, after extensive research, the team was unable to source FSC rounds. After discussing the dilemma and reviewing numerous options, the team decided to use dimensional FSC pressure treated 4x4s and ease the corners and rough up the surface to achieve a weathered appearance. This, in effect, turned the square roof members into the desired round elements that were initially specified. The remainder of the structure was composed of large salvaged poles from other areas throughout the Zoo.

12. Embodied Carbon Footprint

Prior to the construction of the Painted Dog Exhibit, the project team explored opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of the project and determined that changing some methods of construction would achieve this outcome. The team limited the amount of equipment on site and shared the equipment among the contractors to keep from hauling more equipment in and out and to avoid redundancy in equipment use. The team purchased carbon offsets equivalent to the embodied carbon in the project, satisfying both LBC requirements and similar credits required for LEED certification.


PROVIDER – Renewable Choice Energy


13. Responsible Industry

The project team and the Cincinnati Zoo are always focused on the greenest and most sustainable ways to build exhibits, and one of the major focuses is the use of sustainable and low lifecycle-cost materials. They strive to reuse and repurpose excess materials from other projects on the Zoo’s campus. For this project, the team ended up reusing several round timbers from another zoo as well as from some structures that were recently demolished around the Zoo. The team incorporated fair labor practices into the process by using only subcontractors that are equal opportunity employers. They also ensured fair labor practices by requiring all subs to sign off on their lien waivers for each payment they received, which guaranteed that each laborer from that company was paid the due wage in full.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified wood, Salvaged wood

Pressure Treated 4”x4”x8’ Posts – 84 Lumber

15. Conservation & Reuse

Conservation of natural habitats and endangered species has always been the core mission of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Over the last several years, the zoo has extended the philosophy of Conservation to include all natural resources, whether endangered or not. This includes designing exhibits that reduce or eliminate the use of virgin materials and minimize waste going to landfills. For the zoo’s design team, the discussion of conservation starts at the conceptual phase. This includes designing an exhibit or holding building that is “right-sized” for the intended purpose (i.e. do not design 20,000 sf exhibit when a 10,000 sf exhibit is appropriate, or do not design a holding building that has twice the amount of holding space needed). The team aimed to design and build only what is needed and self-sustaining. Part of the design process is selecting materials and construction methods that reduce waste at the time of construction, but also reduce future waste and rebuild. This is achieved by designing 100+ year buildings to maximize the materials used and avoid substandard materials needing future maintenance and/or filling landfills because they needed to be torn down and rebuilt in 20 years.

The only appeal was for the exception for having PVC jacketing on all the electrical wiring. This is mandated by local code, but the AHJ refused to give a written answer stating this is the case.

Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta

16. Human Scale + Humane Places

This whole project is based on human scale and takes into account the manner in which the guests of the Cincinnati Zoo interact with nature on a very humane scale. There are no parking lots or vehicular traffic directly associated with this project. There are only meandering walking paths that lead from one viewing area to the next. The paths are constructed of stamped and stained concrete to resemble “mud pathways” in Africa. They are decorated with leaf and animal imprints as if leaves dropped on the path and/or animals walked across the path. The paths range in width from 7’ – 11’. The paths widen at the viewing areas to give guests comfortable room when viewing the Painted Dogs. At each viewing area, there is plenty of space for guests who want to be right up against the viewing rail or glass, and there is also plenty of space off to the side to enjoy a quiet moment viewing the exhibit. The wood shelters are based on providing a grand view into the exhibit while at the same time creating an intimate “exterior” room for guests to relax and enjoy the moment with nature at its best. The exhibit’s scale is also geared towards creating an intimate setting and relationship between human and animal (guest and Painted Dog). This intimacy promotes the core mission statement of the zoo: conservation. By creating a truly intimate and humane relationship between the two, the zoo succeeds in delivering its message to visitors. With a common cause of conservation, the exhibit instantly unites like-minded people who understand the need for conservation both locally and abroad. This unity stimulates dialogue among zoo employees who are stationed near the exhibit and the guests. The dialogue even trickles down to the children as well.

17. Democracy And Social Justice

The benefit of this project transcends several levels. The first is the enjoyment of the exhibit and having guests witness a very rare breed of animal in its recreated habitat. Not many people have the opportunity to see such sights outside of this exhibit. What makes this exhibit even more special is its location within an urban setting; those who rarely travel out of the local area have a chance to see these beautiful animals and learn about their natural habitat.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is 100% accessible to all members of society and does not discriminate under any circumstances. The Zoo has been involved with countless community outreach programs within its community, including community gardens, Thanksgiving Day Dinner outreach programs, Christmas Present outreach programs and park rehabilitation and renovation projects.

Access from the Zoo’s parking lot to the Painted Dog exhibit is fully accessible under the guidelines of the ADA. Over the past several years, there have been several projects completed outside the boundaries of the Painted Dog Exhibit that have made the “path” from the parking lot to the exhibit fully accessible. This includes the addition of elevators at the main parking lot and regrading of all slopes over 5% grade to now be within guidelines of ADA slopes and cross slopes. All areas within the Painted Dog exhibit are ADA-compliant and all viewing areas are totally accessible to those with disabilities.

18. Right To Nature

The design of the Painted Dog exhibit took into account all the aspects of the Rights to Nature Imperative with regard to shading, fresh air, and natural waterways. The holding building was laid out to ensure that it did not shadow any of the adjacent buildings even with plantings on the roof. To ensure the exhaust from the building does not affect any patrons or adjacent buildings, the exhaust fan for the building is located at the north side of the building and exhausts into the exterior holding pen. The project did not interrupt any natural waterways during its construction. However, several artificial water features were incorporated into the design including a waterfall, two pools, and a stream that cuts through the exhibit. The zoo’s mission for all of its exhibits is to recreate the natural habitat of each animal as closely as possible, allowing them access to fresh air, sun, and water.

Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta Photo Courtesy of Dean Violetta

19. Beauty & Spirit

One of the fundamental teachings at all schools of architecture includes the writings of Vitruvius, who was one of the most famous Roman architects. Vitruvius identified three elements necessary for a well-designed building; commodity (it must support the function for which it was designed), firmness (it must be structurally stable) and delight (it must be beautiful and pleasing to the human eye). Although commodity and firmness are important qualities for any piece of the built environment, the design team’s focus for this Imperative was delight and beauty. In some sense or another, most architects want and strive to design something that is considered beautiful. Although beauty can be in the eye of the beholder, there are some objects, concepts or general ideas that are considered to be beautiful by all. It can certainly be argued that nearly all aspects of “nature” are considered to be truly pleasing in one form or another. By replicating nature, one could make the argument that we are replicating beauty. To be part of a sustainable culture, a person must truly feel that they have a vested interest in that culture. In the zoo’s case, that culture is conservation. Often the goal of the zoo is to change the attitude or “culture” of those who feel that the reason we do things is “because that’s the way we have always done it”. That can be a very negative culture, and changing that mindset is and can be the goal of any exhibit at the zoo. Whether that is harvesting a certain wood that depletes a forest or hunting animals because of their ivory, it’s changing the mindset of this generation and the next to question ourselves on every decision we make that has a negative impact on our world. That’s how we can create a positive “culture”; a sustainable culture that benefits man and nature. We have become a society permissive of disposable products. We value convenience and complacency over respect for our earth’s precious resources. Our measure of success is how much we personally own rather than how much we’ve given back to nature. This is the culture that the zoo strives to change through its many missions, outreach programs and exhibits like the Painted Dog Exhibit. The Cincinnati Zoo has the attention of many local and world leaders and it uses this stage for the benefit of all, including Mother Nature.

20. Inspiration + Education

One of the main goals of each exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is to physically and emotionally connect guests with exhibited animals. By creating a truly intimate and humane bond between guest and nature, the zoo creates an understanding of why it is imperative to save all species, natural habitats and natural resources to ensure the earth’s survival. The goal of “Conservation through Education” is a mantra often repeated at the zoo.

We all have heard that knowledge is power. By giving its visitors knowledge, the zoo also gives them the ability and power to make a difference. To educate them is to give them the tools to fight against ignorance. Guests walk away with real data based on decades of research. We give them information from numerous scientific institutions so that they can make informed decisions about the dilemmas we face and how to act to bring those dilemmas back in check. To back up this data, we give our guests something even better; an exhibit that shows this magnificent animal in its natural setting and habitat. We show how they live, interact with each other and how they coexist with other animals, including man. Through this combination of scientific data and the real life experience of seeing an actual Painted Dog in its natural environment, we create a formidable arsenal of knowledge. When used right, this knowledge is unstoppable.

The Zoo is committed not only to greening its own operations, but engaging its community to do the same. The fourth pillar of our Mission Statement is “Serving Community”, which recognizes our responsibility to partner with diverse and economically challenged communities in our daily work. By providing our community with the resources and tools they need to go green, we not only strengthen our relationship with them, but empower them to save money, save resources and instill pride within their homes and neighborhoods. It may be hard to make a physical connection between the Zoo’s community work and the Painted Dog Exhibit, but in the end, the Zoo continually conserves and beautifies its own property, aides in helping those in the community beautify their property, and protects and conserves property all around the world. And in the end, we all benefit from it.

Please contact Sophia Cifuentes to schedule a tour:
(513) 487-3355

PROJECT WEBSITE: dog-valley/