Oregon Zoo Education Center

Architect: Opsis Architecture

Owner: Metro

Location: Portland, Oregon

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Education – General

The design derives from the flow of the site, the bending of the Zoo path and the flow of rain water. Like a bird making its nest, elements of nature are woven together to support life.

Inspiring visitors to engage in sustainable actions is the mission of the design and exhibits at the Oregon Zoo’s Education Center. The center—the fifth project funded by the zoo bond—provides a home base for thousands of children who participate in camps and classes annually and serves as a regional hub, expanding the zoo's youth programs through collaborations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and other partners. The center includes classrooms, meeting spaces, gardens, and a Nature Exploration Station (NESt), inspiring visitors to get outside, learn about nature, and take action on behalf of nature. Illustrating that “Small Things Matter,” the zoo provides its 1.7 million annual visitors with interactive exhibits that demonstrate how actions can help maintain a healthy planet. The center creates dialogue between the built and natural environment, with each interior space offering a corresponding visible and connected outdoor space. The wood and steel woven structure of the NESt is inspired by the nests of animals creating shelter and order in the environment. The NESt is the center of activity that visitors access through large sliding doors. They learn the stories of local conservation heroes and access the turtle conservation lab and the Insect Zoo—where the smallest of animals can have the largest ecosystem impacts. Within a plaza at the west end of the zoo, the tight, irregular site has curving boundaries of exhibits, the zoo railway, a pedestrian path, and a steep south hillside. The building hugs the central plaza, and learning landscapes exist throughout. Inspired by the unique spiral patterns prevalent in natural systems, two curved roofs welcome visitors to the plaza. Sustainable elements, including solar panels, native plants, bird-safe windows, and rain gardens, are designed to educate the public. The center recently earned LEED Platinum certification with 82 points and Portland AIA’s 2030 COTE award.

"With a comprehensive and integrative series of sustainable tactics the design is very well thought out." -Jury statement

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2016

Year of substantial project completion: 2017

Gross conditioned floor area: 19,000 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 0 sq ft

Number of stories: 1

Project Climate Zone: ASHRAE 4C

Annual hours of operation: 2920

Site area: 83,000 sq ft

Project site context/setting: suburban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $18,700,000

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 1,600,000

Project Team

Engineer - Civil: KPFF Consulting Engineers

Engineer - MEP: PAE Engineers

Engineer - Structural: Catena Consulting Engineers

General Contractor: Fortis Construction

Interpretive Consultant: Jones and Jones    

Landscape Architect: Jones and Jones

Third party rating systems

LEED: Platinum


Nancy Clanton, Clanton & Associates

Paul Mankins, FAIA, Substance Architecture

Christiana Moss, AIA, Studio Ma

Christoph Reinhart, MIT

Allison Williams, FAIA, AGWms_studio

Image credits

COTE Oregon1

Christian Columbres Photographer

COTE Oregon2

Christian Columbres Photographer

COTE Oregon3

Christian Columbres Photographer

COTE Oregon4

Christian Columbres Photographer

COTE Oregon5