Assiniboine Park Zoo Redevelopment

Winnipeg, Manitoba


In June 2009, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy unveiled a comprehensive $200 million redevelopment plan for the Assiniboine Park and Zoo to be completed over 10 years in three distinct phases. Working alongside Number 10 Architectural Group, SMS sought to bring innovation to the state-of-art complex.

The redevelopment of the Assiniboine Park Zoo began with the renovation of the existing Tropical house, now renamed "Toucan Ridge".

The existing mechanical and electrical systems, dating from the mid 1960s, were updated and modernized to perform in a more energy efficient manner. Next was the renovation of the outdoor bear pools: the old fill systems were replaced with brand-new piping systems and modernized, electronic controls. The interior bear holding facility followed, with new heating and ventilation systems. Ultimately, the facility was reconfigured to also provide a home for orphaned, young polar bears.

The International Polar Bear Conservation Centre facility was next, providing an environment for the public to learn more about polar bears, their environment and the effect of climate change on their habitat. The building houses an exhibit area which showcases the bears and their arctic home, a presentation classroom for schools and other groups, and an academic research facility for researchers and their graduate students.

A new complex comprising of the Tundra Grill Restaurant, a retail area, and a children's' play area followed later, overlooking the site of the polar bear exhibit. This new facility is conditioned with an innovative variable refrigerant flow heat pump system coupled to a district geoexchange loop. To ensure the bears are not bothered by food odours, the kitchen exhaust and garbage room exhausts are treated for odours using an air scrubber coupled with an ozone generator.

Floor to ceiling glass panes provide patrons of the Tundra Grill the ability to get up close and personal with polar bears, while enjoying a meal or snack. The adjoining Polar Playground aims to educate children through motion-based activities including a moving ice-mass floor that responds to footsteps, an ice cave, a responsive Aurora Borealis wall where children can conduct the northern lights, and a wall-sized icicle xylophone.

The Journey to Churchill building showcases exhibits on the Arctic experience with viewing areas to the polar bear and seal pools. The building is conditioned using distributed heat pumps connected to the district geoexchange loop and uses highly efficient heat recovery systems. The bear and seal pools are unique in that they are purposely designed to freeze over in the wintertime allowing for a natural experience for the animals. The top edges of the pool are lined with geoexchange powered heat tracers that keep the ice from bonding to the side of the pool. At the same time, an air jet at the bottom of the pool keeps the centre of the pool free from ice and moves the ice around.