Tropical Discovery is a conservatory-type building that provides a real-life rain forest environment in a 1.5 acre tropical ecosystem. The Denver Zoo’s exhibit and education center is home for 140 species of plants, 123 species of fish and over 1200 animals representing over 200 species such as mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.
An offshore coral reef, tropical marshes, temple ruins, cypress and mangrove swamps have been created throughout the complex. With over 13 pools forming the pathway around the exhibit, 24 glass-fronted tanks, 3 waterfalls and a jungle river, Pinkard was faced with very complex waterproofing challenges in the installation of four different waterproofing systems that were specified in the architect’s construction documents. Intricate life support systems were installed that precisely regulate each exhibit environment for the vast array of both plant and animal species requiring maintenance of proper temperatures.
The building is topped with two pyramid-shaped skylights providing natural light for almost 3/4 of the building. One of the skylights stands 45 feet above the ground. A temple inside nearly reaches the pyramid’s peak.
Although there are 22,000 square feet of display area, the total square footage including service areas and holding pens is nearly 41,000. The exterior involved Pinkard’s execution of extensive architectural cast-in-place concrete work.
With the construction of Tropical Discovery, the Denver Zoo is one of the few zoos in the country that has created not only natural habitats but biological ecosystem that blend the best of biology and botany. It is a fascinating and unique opportunity for visitors to experience the immense diversity of life in the tropics and to gain a greater appreciation for the fragile nature of this important ecosystem.