Zoo Wins ENR Best Project Award
It isn’t every day that a structural engineer gets to use an airplane as a component for a lion exhibit, but that’s exactly the case in our work on the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium’s Heart of Africa Exhibit. Because of the outstanding design and construction on the exhibit, it was recently honored with an ENR Midwest Best Project Award.
While Jezerinac Geers provided structural engineering for the components of the project, including the giraffe holding and feeding pavilion, the hoof stock, primate and cheetah holding areas, the special events pavilion, and Savannah restaurant, it’s the design of the of the lion holding area that was most interesting for project manager, Darren Cook, PE.
A 1956 Beech Model-18 airplane was incorporated into the lion exhibit allowing visitors to use it as a viewing space. Situated on the edge of the habitat, visitors are able to enter the plane’s cargo hold where the lions can sometimes be seen lounging on a wing inches away. This up-close experience necessitated that special structural safety considerations be integrated into the existing airframe.
With as much of the original plane maintained as possible, the interior was reinforced with aluminum plating, windows were replaced with “lion proof” glass and the landing gear was fixed in place to keep it secure from any jarring.
“I’ve been fortunate to do some unique projects in my engineering career and this one tops the list,” Cook said. “From designing shoring support for a 1913 building with a surrounding 300,000 sq. ft. addition, to the development of a pulley system for the re skinning of a museum on the National Mall, working on the airplane structure was certainly out of the norm and a lot of fun.”