Tanner Kibble Denton (TKD) Architects recently completed the new Centenary Theatre at Sydney’s iconic Taronga Zoo. The theatre focuses on the real heart of Taronga Conservation Society Australia, demonstrating commitment to environment and wildlife conservation.

Located near the main entrance of the Zoo, the theatre is intended to capture visitors as part of their arrival experience. It is positioned to delight, offering iconic views overlooking the giraffe enclosure to Sydney Harbour.

The project consists of a 160 seat capacity theatre, associated control, plant room and vestibules, as well as separate external entry and exit plazas with soft landscaping. The theatre houses a 5m high x 25m wide wrap-around screen serviced by large format laser phosphor projectors and commercial surround sound speakers; the theatre is fully insulated and soundproofed.

The vision was to create an immersive multi-sensory visitor attraction. The theatre would deliver a unique and engaging learning experience, positively influencing visitors’ personal and emotional connection to animals and the work of Taronga Conservation Society Australia.

“The theatre provides a remarkable architectural statement at a pivotal position in the Zoo,” says Alex Kibble, Centenary Theatre project director and managing director at Tanner Kibble Denton Architects. “The new building is memorable; both strikingly visual on its site and all-immersive in its experience offered to visitors. A refined addition, it demonstrates the Zoo’s cultural and environmental commitment to future generations.”

The building consists of a reinforced concrete semi-surrounded basement, exposed concrete floors, soffit and tapered concrete “V” shaped columns. Above floor level, a light-weight steel structure with external timber and fibre cement rain-screen cladding is used throughout. An additional façade treatment of suspended timber battens is used to the harbour facing elevation. The roof is custom-built aluminium on a steel liner deck, spanning six metres between rafters. Zinc is used as the cladding material for the overhanging eaves, its malleability crucial for the complex geometrical design.

“The positioning of the theatre perfectly utilises the topography of the site,” says Andrew Chippindall, Taronga Zoo Centenary Theatre Project Manager. “The design of the entrance ramp to the precinct leads to a lookout which takes advantage of the superb view beyond, before leading down to a preshow area. This ramp is an entity in itself, providing a shaded seating area which will be most welcome in summer and busy times. The pre-show plaza is another contained space, purposefully building anticipation just outside the theatre’s main entrance. When approaching the theatre from below, the structural V pillars allow the theatre to float within the landscape. Whilst the scale of the building is large, this provides an organic element to the mass of the concrete above.”

External and internal materials were selected to enhance and celebrate Taronga Zoo’s unique character in response to the brief. Raw materials have been expressed throughout the project and include honed concrete, timber weatherboard and timber batten cladding, mild steel plate cladding to vestibules and textured fibre cement panelling. This raw palate of materials is also reflected internally, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, further connecting visitors to the greater zoo environment.

“TKD Architects selected a considered palette of materials, including Blackbutt timber batons, off-white aggregate exposed concrete paths and grey masonry cladding allowing the grand scale of the building to recede into the verdant landscape most effectively,” Chippindall explains.

TKD Architects were commissioned as architects to undertake design development, documentation, construction and post-completion services for the project in 2015. In prior project phases, Taronga Conservation Society Australia had engaged BRC Imagination Arts to develop an Immersive Theatre Feasibility and Preliminary Visioning Study (2011) and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects (TZG) to undertake concept design and DA submission (2013).

“TKD Architects have worked hard to honour and respect the TZG concept, maintaining the design parameters which had been established,” says Kibble. “We extended the vision, through careful detailing and design resolution and while the project had a number of complex considerations, including the geometry of the building, acoustic performance, coastal environment and site topography, the completed building and its setting is not dominated by that complexity.”

Project team: TKD Architects.

Project director: Alex Kibble

Project architect: Robin Sampson

Project team: Angelo Casado, Cha Lu, Sherry Gao.


Partners and contractors: Woolacotts Consulting Engineering, Wood and Grieve Engineers, Context, Kane Construction.