Blog: 28 August 2019Should immersive be a universal design principle?

Tom Macklen

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Tom Macklen

Architectural Associate

Bristol office

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At Bristol Zoo, we have helped bears return as they would have lived in 8,000 BC in a new ‘Bear Wood’ enclosure.

Bear Wood – the new bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine habitat at Bristol Zoo’s Wild Place – is unique.  Visitors to the zoo can ‘go back in time’ by experiencing how these species would have lived in English ancient woodland.  The purpose of the new area was to create an immersive and harmonious way of observing and learning. 

To achieve this, working closely with the Bristol Zoological Society, we looked at both playing on and enhancing the already established woodland.  Instead of creating a habitat and clearly defined barriers between the observer and observed, it was important that the habitat was designed to immerse visitors into an interactive (and safe!) platform through the treetops.  By enhancing and amplifying the qualities of an established natural environment, we were able to deliver a space that created interactive, tangible and unobtrusive engagement between visitors and the environment – and one that was fun to explore! 

The raised walkway through the dense woodland environment, takes visitors deep into Bear Wood without needing to alter the ground level habitat. The various woodland structures and intervention at Bear Wood aim to complement and work with the space and ultimately engage people in a deeper sense with the habitat. We have designed with the purpose of sympathetically reconnecting people with nature to help facilitate an immersive and holistic experience, as well as a great day out.

Our experience in zoo design highlights a shift beyond entertainment and towards education and a reconnection with nature.  If we placed an even greater emphasis on ‘immersive’ in say masterplans or our high streets, would these places feel more successful and sustainable?  After all, our leisure time has shifted towards ‘the experience’ factor, whether that is shopping, eating or visiting a museum or landmark.   

Creating spaces that immerse us synonymously into habitats, as has been achieved at Bear Wood, could serve to protect habitats and improve health and wellbeing.  It widens our experiences and breaks down barriers.  Perhaps ‘immersive’ should be considered a universal design principle?

Posted with the following keywords:
Design, Architecture, Education, Health, Wellbeing


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