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March 1, 2017

Building for Furry, Feathered and Amphibious New Yorkers


We often think of municipal design and construction as something solely for upright mammals with two legs. However, here, at the Department of Design and Construction, we also build for entirely different types of living creatures—animals!

The structures these creatures require range from aquariums to animal rescue facilities. These projects don’t just provide safe and healthy homes, they provide unique opportunities for New Yorkers to interact with animals. They allow us the privilege to learn about animals, spend time with them, take advantage of the therapeutic benefits of their company, and mingle with individuals over shared interests. Here are a few projects we are excited to deliver to animals big and small.

“DDC’s work with zoos, farms, dog runs, and animal rescue shelters demonstrates the extraordinary diversity of the projects we do,” said DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora. “Accommodating animals in various settings requires that our designers listen intently to our client agencies to fully understand the needs of the animals and the people who work with them. Construction within a functioning zoo or farm can also require special measures to control noise or vibrations so as to not disturb animals. It can be challenging but very rewarding work.”

Queens County Farm Museum

We are currently restoring the barn and garage buildings at the Queens County Farm Museum, which are primarily used for administrative and public gathering purposes. This might have you thinking, what about animals? But at the Queens County Farm Museum, animals are a critical component to their farming operation.

Founded in 1697, the farm occupies New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland. The 47-acre farm is comprised of historic farm buildings, a greenhouse complex, livestock, farm vehicles, planting fields, an orchard, and an herb garden.

QCFM farmers practice sustainable agriculture—the practice of growing food in a way that balances environmental stewardship, community development, and economic viability. This means doing things like integrating livestock management with grazing to improve soil quality, animal health, and to restore the farm’s ecosystem.

The farm raises standard breeds of livestock as well as heritage breeds. Heritage breeds have history—they are the animals that settlers needed to survive in the early years of the United States of America. They are much healthier and heartier than most of their modern counterparts and are in danger of disappearing. It is the Queens County Farm Museum’s objective to conserve these animals for future generations. Breeds include Dexter cattle, as well as Cotswold: sheep, pigs, goats, hens, and honeybees. Dexter cattle are among the smallest cattle breeds in the world but they can do extensive work for sustainable agriculture. They forage and do not eat as much grass or hay as average cattle. They are easily trained and don’t require much space, making them an ideal fit for the farm. Cotswold pigs are playful and curious animals who also love to forage around the farm’s woodland area—keeping growth in check. They also eat used grain from Brooklyn Brewery, along with farm grown fruits and vegetables. Cotswold honeybees produce wildflower honey. Their presence on the farm is critical in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, particularly with bee populations dwindling across the globe.

The renovations at the Queens Country Farm Museum make it possible for the farm to care for their livestock and maintain their unique breeds, through educational programming, events, and museum services, that educate the public on the significance of sustainable agricultural and horticultural practices.

Washington Square Park

In 2014, we completed renovations at Washington Square Park, and subsequently George’s Dog Run. An integral component to George’s Dog Run is the Washington Square Park House. Its south façade makes up the bulk of the dog park enclosure. On the inside, the House provides shelter to public restrooms, offices, storage, and mechanical spaces, such as pumps to operate the fountain. Designed with several sustainable features, the house includes solar panels, a geothermal heating and cooling system, as well as passive design strategies—earning the structure LEED Platinum Certification. As for the dog park, the grey granite structure, with cedar trellises, provides more than a barrier to contain dogs, with benches suspended from the façade, providing a place for dog owners—and dogs—to relax.

The Washington Square Park renovations resulted in a dog park outfitted with a pool, numerous seating options, new footing, safety gates, water fountains for humans and dogs alike, as well as enclosed dog waste disposal units. These features allow for dogs to have fun, to play safely, and for owners to mingle and observe their furry friends, while maintaining necessary hygienic standards in our booming metropolis.

Bronx Zoo Lion House

The Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States at 265-acres. At the turn of the 20th century six Beaux Arts buildings—characterized by decorative architectural elements upon modern functional structures—were constructed on site. They were constructed to house exotic animals from around the world. One of these six buildings, the Lion House, was built in 1903, and considered to be state-of-the-art at the time. Animal care has advanced extensively in the last hundred years, and the lions have since been moved to a more natural setting.

After their move, the Lion House was closed. However, in 2003 the Wildlife Conservation Society was tasked with bringing new life to the Lion House. They decided to focus on the wildlife of the island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. The exhibition space, now titled “Madagascar!” would need to accommodate the likes of Nile crocodiles, lemurs, and hissing cockroaches.

DDC and FXFOWLE Architects were tasked with renovating the existing Lion House to accommodate the incoming creatures, as well as the construction of an additional 4,000 square-feet of exhibition space, 6,700-square-feet of plant and animal support space, 35,000-square-foot multipurpose event space, and 700-square-feet of mechanical space all within the existing site. Together, DDC and FXFOWLE were able to excavate a lower level for service and support spaces, with the main level occupied by public and exhibition spaces. Much of the mechanical spaces were absorbed into the structure as to not take up any additional space.

The installation of a subterranean geothermal heating and cooling system earned the structure LEED Gold Certification. Sustainability features such as these, keep within the ethos of the zoo by supporting the environment that surrounds us. The renovation of the Lion House allows for New Yorkers to explore creatures from a remote island off the coast of Africa, while providing space for the zookeepers to care for and study the species that inhabit our planet.

Staten Island Aquarium

In 2016, we began renovations on the aquarium at the Staten Island Zoo. The nearly 80-year-old aquarium featured thirteen smaller tanks within a 3,600-square-foot space. These tanks are in the process of being replaced with four large tanks, accommodating 3,300-gallons of water each. Each-floor-to ceiling tank will represent a distinct region of the biosphere: Tropical Coral Reef, Pacific Kelp Forest, Southeast Asian Freshwater, and the Atlantic/Caribbean Sea.

An educational zoo since its founding in 1936, these new tanks are integral to the aquarium’s programming. “We live every day in New York City surrounded by water, particularly in Staten Island,” said Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora. “This proximity to the ocean makes a top-flight aquarium even more important for people to learn about our local wildlife and how we fit into this complex ecosystem.”

In addition to tank replacements, DDC will also install high grade filters and water quality controls. To make the Zoo more fiscally and environmentally sustainable, mechanical upgrades will be performed—reducing energy and maintenance costs.


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