Conservation, interaction, stimulation and safety are major factors that went into the design of a new center changing Indy’s skyline.
With the sleek lines of the building, a network of cables and an aerial ride surrounding it, topped with the150-foot Beacon of Hope, the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center looks more like an attraction from Epcot Center than the new home of eight great apes.
When you get close up it’s a whole different experience. Paul Grayson, deputy director at the Indianapolis Zoo says bringing orangutans and people face to face could change lives.
"We hope to take that interest that we're going to generate and that bonding that we know will occur between people and the apes here and turn that into action on behalf of their wide counterparts in Sumatra and Borneo," explains Grayson.
Jonathan Hess helped design the structure and says the building is meant to reflect architecture common in Southeast Asia with it’s broad overhangs and pitched roof. He also says safety is a key element of the design because orangutans are notorious escape artists.
"That gives us all sorts of challenges, they are incredibly smart animals and very strong," says Hess. "When you come visit, they're up over your heads and it kind of calls the question 'where is the cage?'"
The animals are able to move around the structure using the cables and platforms of the Hutan Trail or the “H-line” allowing the orangs to choose where they want to spend their time.
Dr. Robert Shumaker, VP of conservation and an orangutan expert, says every element of the exhibit is crafted to create awareness about the endangered ape.
"We want visitors to see the orangutans moving the way their bodies are designed to move, socializing the way orangutans socialize, showing off their cognitive abilities and frankly we think all of that will change the hearts and minds of the people that come here," says Shumaker.
The large vertical space also includes three separate oases, a learning studio and a large atrium. The $26 million dollar exhibit features a community plaza and a green roof.
It opens to the public Saturday, May 24 at the Indianapolis Zoo.