Asian Tropics Exhibit Master Plan


ECOS Communications

Practice Area


Denver Zoo


Project Vision

ECOS Communications was contracted by the Denver Zoo to develop the environmental graphic design, cultural thematic context, and exhibit content master plan for a new 10-acre, $50 million exhibit on zoo grounds. ECOS began the 12-month planning phase by developing a project mission around the core of the planned exhibit: Asian elephants’ danger of extinction and how their survival depends on resolving human/animal conflicts. All design was developed to support that mission.

The exhibit will feature six distinct animal exhibit yards that will be rotated to provide variety and interest to the animals and their visitors. That approach posed serious issues for wayfinding, species identification, and interpretation, so ECOS’ challenge was to find a way to use the rotation as an interpretive strength. For example, rather than providing single-species identities at each location, the interpretive content brings all three of the rotating species into focus, organized around common natural and cultural history storylines.

Materials planned for the space reflect the natural habitats of the exhibit animals. Low-tech woods, bamboo, and grasses will be used extensively, and much of the wayfinding signage will be hand-painted in English and Sanskrit and allowed to age. The exhibit will also earn LEED designation, including signage and exhibit elements.

To support the zoo’s conservation mission, ECOS developed a novel, visually dramatic station that may also have high fundraising potential. Visitors can purchase lengths of unmarked Buddhist prayer flags, then decorate them using authentic print blocks carved with animal images. The flags will be strung together and suspended along visitor pathways throughout the 10 acres. Funds raised at the station will support elephant conservation.

Pending funding, the new exhibit will open in 2009.


Project Details
We were all impressed with the organization of this master plan document. Of the many program entries, this was one whose documentation of thinking was clearest, simplest, and easiest to digest that which, in the end, is a large-scale undertaking. The maps and sketches were enchanting; the clear graphic quality and organization of the information is what won the day.
Juror 1
Design Team

Chip Isenhart (creative director), Seth Frankel (managing director), Jenny Dyer (senior designer)

Design Firm

ECOS Communications