I want to be a Zoo Designer

Over the years we have received numerous  emails and phone calls asking us what it takes to be a zoo designer. Do you need multiple degrees, architecture, landscape architecture, biology, zoology? What schools offer degrees in design with an emphasis in zoo design? When it was time to hire my first employee for PJA, I had no clue as to what I should be looking for in terms of degree and experience.
I was fortunate enough to be working on Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the time and so I went straight to the person I thought could help me the most, Joe Rohde. We talked about this for a while and in the end he gave me probably the best advice I could ever have gotten.

Joe said that I shouldn’t worry about hiring anyone with experience in zoo design as I had that covered and that I could pass along much needed information. What he told me to do was “Hire Talent”. He said it was the only thing you couldn’t teach an employee. How true are those words.

So as PJA grew, I tried to do exactly that, hire talent. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, just like life. Throughout the almost eighteen years of PJA, I have added another quality to my search, Passion.
It’s hard to know if a person is passionate about their job during an hour interview. It is something that you need to observe after you hire them, and if they are, nurture it. There are enough people that just want to do the typical 9-5, go home and not worry about work.

So now, when a person calls and asks what it takes to be a zoo designer for PJA, I tell them this;   1). You don’t need to know about animals, but I expect you to learn about animals on your own time to help you in the design process. 2). Free-hand drawing! Everything goes out of the office digitally, but in the office and with clients, the best way to quickly communicate an idea is with a sketch. No. 2 pencils are your friend. 3). Some type of design degree, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Design, Graphic Design, Artist, and so on. 4). Talent. 5). Passion.

Hope this helps. You can still call or email our office, we would love to hear from you about why you want to go into zoo design. All I can say is I hope it’s not for the money.

  1. Victoria Chaffers

    This is an awesome read. I have always desired to work with animals. First, to be a vet, then maybe a zoo keeper. I went on to getting a design degree in Interior Design and now just graduated and I still feel the need to want to help animals. I think zoo design is such an interesting and inspiring field to help animals within their spaces. So many think design is all for the people but its not just the people but for the animals. I have visited plenty of zoos where the design is not all it should be. The animals don’t have either enough space or their environment unappealing or saddening for the animals to live in. I was thinking of getting an Landscape Architecture degree and pursue the career of zoo and habitat design.

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