Philadelphia Zoo’s new KidZooU designed to delight all kids

Caroline O’Halloran for Mainline Media examines the universal design elements and hands-on exhibits of KidZooU: the Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Faris Family Education Center at the Philadelphia Zoo.

C7A designed the exhibits to be accessible to all, with Braille, American Sign Language, a picture exchange system for children on the autism spectrum, and QR codes linking to translations in 15 languages. The architecture, including adaptive reuse of the elephant house, animal enclosures, and climbing structures, was designed by SMP Architects.

“KidZooU is way more involved and way more disability-friendly than anything else out there,” said Michelle Rowe, executive director of the Kinney Center for Autism Support and Education at St. Joseph’s University, a consultant on the project. “Families feel like someone finally cares about them.”

The hands-on exhibits designed by C7A encourage recycling and energy conservation to protect the habitats of animals and provide opportunities for parallel play.

“Behind every exhibit is the concept of play with a purpose,” explained Kristen Waldron, the zoo’s director of conservation education. “Doing leads to caring. Everything we do here gives kids a chance to roll up their sleeves and get actively involved with helping animals. They connect with animals, they care for animals and they practice how to make the world a better place for animals.”