Over ten years ago, Jon Coe wrote a paper outlining the upcoming breakthroughs in exhibit design, using enrichment based (or as he says, activity-based) design. These exhibits have now been opened and are successful. However, ten years from the original date of the paper, designers still have not fully embraced the design concept. Incorporating enrichment devices into an exhibit is one thing; to fully base design on enrichment or activity, is an entirely different animal.
As Coe points out, however, design is not fully the designers’ decision. A new animal habitat has many stakeholders, and even if the designer supports the idea of basing design on enrichment, the entire team of administrators, keepers, curators, and Board of Directors, not to mention all members of the design team, must also agree.
In many cases, the resources (of time, money, and/or space) just aren’t there. Many times, the decision comes down to making an immersive environment or making an enriching environment. Unfortunately, many folks in the industry still hold onto the idea that an immersive environment equals animal health and activity, or at least, equal visitor satisfaction. However, active animals are much more powerful than a pretty environment, and we must work on our clients to understand this.