Taronga Zoo – Nura Diya Exhibit

About the Author

Hugo Cottier is an Associate Director at Lahznimmo Architects.
The portfolio of projects Hugo has been involved with is rich and varied, though primarily focused on public buildings and urban design. A number of these public and urban design projects have received peer recognition, at State and National levels.

Contact: h.cottier@lahznimmo.com


Treehouse and Koala Walk

Designed by Lahznimmo + Spackman Mossop Michaels’, Taronga Zoo’s newest exhibit space Nura Diya Australia is almost complete. Nura Diya (this country or camp) is set on traditional Cammeraigal country and is the latest in a series of major works completed for the Zoo’s centenary. The new exhibit will be adding to the rich history of the Zoo, as planned landscaped public space.

Lahznimmo were lucky to work on one of the first of the major centenary projects, Taronga Sumatran Tiger Trek in 2017, and now the most recent which will open in April 2023. To say these projects are a challenge is an understatement, as no amount of experience will equip you for the idiosyncrasies of exhibit design.

Before the Zoo was at Bradleys Head it was located at Moore Park, with the hundreds of animals transported through the city to its new harbour bushland location.

(https://mhnsw.au/stories/general/story-how-move-zoo/) Beginning in this state of flux, the zoo has continued on a fluctuating pathway. As zoology, conservation and behavioural science have evolved, so has the zoo; physically adapting itself to meet the needs of both its visitors and the animals in its care, ­as well as cultural trends and attitudes. Today’s zoos are driven by ecological themes and exhibit animals in more natural surroundings, with stronger emphases on the role of conservation. Gone are the days of exhibits such as the 1934 London Zoo penguin exhibit – a fantastic feat of engineering and modernist design, but the antithesis of the reconstructed naturalistic exhibits of current times.

As urban and public places zoos are unique. Made up of a number of territorially bounded spaces, each is distinct in terms of environment and function, transporting the visitor from one habitat to the next. As an example, the Sumatran Tiger Trek took ‘transportation’ to an elevated level, with a simulated flight to Way Kambas Sumatra to encounter the tigers in their ‘natural’ habitat. Immersion was the key theme here, with views out to the harbour beyond screened by built form or dense ‘jungle’ planting – landscape and architecture working as one to contain and intensify the zoo experience.

The exhibit is unique in that a portion of the exhibit will be able to be viewed from the top plaza, before entering the zoo proper.

The exhibit will be home to everything from larger animals like the Kangaroo, Emu, Koalas and Dingo, down to smaller nocturnal animals like the Bat, Bilby, Quoll and Dunnart. The main design objective for the exhibit is to showcase native Australian wildlife and landscapes, and convey an educational message of conservation through minimal intervention.

Macropod Exhibit

The whole precinct is heritage listed and Lahznimmo have worked carefully to preserve the history of the site, the established bushland and natural topography. On the hilly site, accessible grades were a major design driver. We worked closely with our design partners landscape architects Spackman Mossop and Michaels to create a balance between built and natural environments, with the theme of ‘bushwalk’ being the recurring motif.


Western Entry

From a clearing at the Western Entry, visitors gather and set-off from a large area of walkway grating, situated over the previous waterbird pond. Entering under a layered timber screen, visitors ascend through the open Macropod exhibit on a pathway that snakes through various native landscapes, ranging from wetlands through to arid woodland. And then up into the tree canopy situated at the top of the hill of the zoo proper. Visitors will be able to sit back and relax here in the new Treehouse building, which houses a small café and visitor amenities with generous covered outdoor seating on the deck.

From here visitors set out on a raised timber walkway which puts you at eye level and proximity to koalas in treed perches, with landscaped views across Bradleys Head Road to Sydney Harbour National Park.  The Australia journey then winds its way down through the Dingo exhibit of rock escarpments and into the Nocturnal House.

The exhibits maintain a balance between animal welfare, guest experience and keeper maintenance requirements. They have separate and concealed keeper access and animal holding areas to maintain a separation between the exhibit habitat of the animals and the functional day to day requirements needed to care for the animals; a delicate balance between animal welfare and visitor experience requirements.

Nocturnal House – under construction

With animal welfare it is all about shade and shelter, enrichment, containment and maintenance. For the visitor the aim of the exhibit design is to transport you, to simulate the experience of, and immerse you in, the animal’s natural habitat.

These projects are a great challenge and responsibility, designing for wondrous animals and humans alike. For that reason, they bring more joy and sense of accomplishment than many other projects we have become involved in.


Lahznimmo would like to acknowledge Cammeraigal people as the traditional custodians of the land on which Taronga sits, and thank their elders for the assistance on the project. We would like to thank and acknowledge our design partner Spackman Mossop Michaels’ and the project team, including but not limited to, SDA Structures, ADP Consulting and Steensen Varming. We would also like to acknowledge and thank our client Taronga Conservation Society and the main building contractor Taylor Construction.