James Slade, AIA, LEED AP, and Hayes Slade, AIA, cite their work at the Staten Island
Zoo (out to bid at this writing, with no opening date fixed) as the kind of contract
that would rarely be available to a small firm. The client is the Department of
Cultural Affairs (DCA), but the site is on Parks Department land. Budget cuts and
political negotiations trimmed a more ambitious master plan, including a new entrance
building and a farmstead educating urban children about rural ecosystems, to two
new components: a leopard exhibition and a carousel enclosure. Working on this eight-acre
zoo, renowned for niches like its reptile collection (and a charismatic groundhog
that once bit Major Bloomberg), gave the Slades some education about a different
ecosystem: city-government processes.
Placing the carousel centrally near the dining facilities and giving its enclosure
glass doors and an ETFE roof lowers sound nuisances to neighbors and creates a bright,
open area where adults can dine while watching their children ride.
DDC has been instrumental, Hayes notes, in getting these design solutions approved.
Along with guidance on time-consuming documentation, the Slades add, working with
the agency generates internal benefits for a small firm that extend beyond the immediate
project and offset the tight fee structure. Submitting drawings to DDC strengthens
a firm’s ability to produce deliverables required by complicated organizations. Future
clients view the city’s vetting as a sign of a firm’s credibility, and DDC’s online
Design Consultant Guide is, in Hayes’s words, “the closest thing you’ll ever see
to a manual on how to do the optimal project.”
“Each agency involved,” says James Slade, is “trying to do what’s best for the city
as a whole, but coming at it from different views.” Parks emphasizes tree preservation
and grounds maintenance; zoo officials are concerned with visitors’ experience, animals’
well-being, and relations with adjoining resident; DCA strives to spread resources
evenly among multiple competing constituencies. DDC acts as orchestrator and assists
The Slades strove to maintain a band of trees surrounding the zoo, but a leopard
enclosure normally needs below-grade walls to keep the cats from digging out. Foundation
excavation, Hayes notes, is often “basically a slow way to kill trees.” To preserve
the roots, they chose a horizontal subterranean mesh digging barrier instead of the
customary leopard-proof concrete. A foundation system using football-shaped diamond
piers and steel poles driven in a cone formation saves materials and is less invasive
to the landscape.
Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in Oculus,
Architect, Icon, Content, The Architect’s Newspaper, LEAF Review, and other publications.
PROJECT: Staten Island Zoo CLIENT: Staten Island Zoo ARCHITECT: Slade Architecture STRUCTURAL
ENGINEER: Gilsanz Murray Steficek
Slade Architecture: The Carousel at Staten Island Zoo is being relocated from the
periphery to a more central location near the dining facilities, and being refitted
with glass doors and an ETFE roof to lower sound nuisances to neighbors.
March 14, 2012 Public Projects, Small Firms, Targeted Tactics
Having replaced fee-based bidding with quality-based prequalification, the city’s
Department of Design + Construction has been matching talented smaller firms with
appropriate projects. The result is civic construction with grandeur, greenness, and
verve BY BILL MILLARD
*Reprinted from the Spring 2012 edition of Oculus Magazine, Volume 74, Issue 1