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The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo completes

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The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo completes

CAW Architects designed the project.

By David Malone, Managing Editor | December 7, 2021
JMZ entrance
Photos courtesy CAW Architects

The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo (JMZ) has completed, CAW Architects recently announced. Located within the Palo Alto Arts and Recreation District, the project replaces the original JMZ facility. The project area spans three acres and includes a 15,200-sf building and the 18,800-sf zoo (including back-of-house spaces).

CAW Architects worked with Studio Hansen Roberts to design a new children’s museum and zoo that rethinks how to capture a child’s wonder and curiosity for the natural world and create interactive learning experiences throughout. Organized around an exhibit hall, education center, and outdoor zoo, the new design creates a strong visible presence through a large entrance porch and a variety of free outdoor exhibit spaces. The exhibit spaces extend into the adjacent surroundings and include the stump maze, the rainbow tunnel, and porch swings.

JMZ exhibit area

The building forms fit a residential and agrarian vernacular with simple clean forms and shed roofs, which echo the surrounding neighborhood. The building shapes fit in and around existing mature oaks and feature trees, where the buildings create theme-based outdoor courtyard spaces, such as the Jurassic courtyard, for specific educational opportunities.

The exhibit hall contains a variety of interactive and kinesthetic exhibits in which children can interact. Several large windows and skylights directly link the zoo with the exhibit hall, with some exhibits extending from the zoo directly into the museum.

JMZ zoo area

The entire zoo is designed as a large aviary, allowing a wide range of birds to directly interact with the children. The exhibits within the zoo are layered vertically to give kids an opportunity to view the natural environment from different vantage points. The design allows children to experience the natural environment of spaces below such as tree roots and water ponds, while also creating spaces above, for children to explore up in the central tree to then look down on the various zoo experiences. A tree house runs through the center of the zoo and connects all the spaces with rope bridges, ladders, net tubes, and platforms to create a play-based experience for children.

CAW Architects' work on the project included the site masterplan, including the museum, zoo, and education center to integrate it into the overall city complex; architectural design and interior design of the museum, education wing, and administrative support spaces; and site design including exhibit spaces around the museum exterior, zoo exhibit spaces, and zoo support spaces.

In addition to CAW Architects and Studio Hansen Roberts, the project team also included:

  • Landscape Design: Vallier Design
  • General Contractor: Vance Brown Builders
  • Structural Engineer: Hohbach Lewin
  • Specialized Structural Engineer: Coffman Engineers INC.
  • Giotechnical Engineer: Silicon Valley Soil Engineering
  • Civil Engineer: C2G
  • Mechanical/Plumbing: ACCO Engineered Systems
  • Electrical Engineer: H.A. Bowen Electric
  • Project Arborist: HortScience, Inc.


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