A thesis, which may Change the Way we think about Zoos

A young structural engineer from the Faculty of Civil Engineering of BME has designed an absolutely unique, integrated aviary and wild animal garden for the Budakeszi Wildlife Park.

The originality of the concept of Ferenc Szabó lies in the idea that big game (mouflon, fallow deer and red deer) and birds would inhabit the same area. “This way the garden would give an authentic illustration of the wildlife of European forests,” explains the young engineer, who got the primary motive from his consultant, László Dunai. The Dean of the Faculty of Civil Engineering (ÉMK) visited the San Diego Zoo in one of his study tours. Seeing Owens Aviary, a complex for hundreds of tropical plants and bird species he felt designing a similar facility would be a perfect thesis project at the university.

„For my consultant a primary aspect was that the plan should be feasible so the first step was to find the proper place for the facility,” remembers Ferenc, who met the director of the Budakeszi Wildlife Park after being refused at some other institutions. “The Director, Péter Szabó understood and liked the idea at first” therefore he supported the young engineer’s work and provided the data and information necessary for planning.

The director selected an area of 1.800 m² forest with 15 meter high trees where at present mouflons live. The engineer first performed the geodesic measurements of the area and next started the actual planning work. “For about six months I was consulting with Professor László Dunai every week; and also my expert consultant, Péter Füredi helped a lot with the static calculations and technological issues,” he highlights the details of the project.

Ferenc Szabó found the selected area absolutely perfect for the new facility; he designed a sixty-meter long light steel framing with thirty meters width. László Dunai also raised the idea that visitors should not only be allowed to see the complex from outside the fences but should also have the opportunity to walk in and experience the European forests’ atmosphere; therefore the young researcher designed a bridge structure on the canopy level of the trees. “The canopy walkway would be at five and eight meters height of the aviary in the whole length of the structure,” explains the engineer. “The idea of the Director of the Wildlife Park was to install consoles on the handrails, where visitors can feed the birds while they watching the big animals walking on the ground level,” says the student, who admits that if the plan is realised he would have the chance to walk on the canopy level for the first time in his life.

For Ferenc Szabó the thesis was definitely more than just a project to be solved. “I love nature, therefore an attractive element of the idea was that if it is realised we would have the chance to observe wild animals in their natural environment.”

Director Péter Szabó feels obliged to carry out the plan and build the complex. On the other hand the main problem is to find funding for the investment in the Wildlife Park. “The thesis project was compiled of various different elements, therefore some further revision and optimisation would be needed before the plan is implemented.” The structural engineer student stated in his interview to bme.hu that “this project is very close to my heart; if the Wildlife Park had the financial resources available for the implementation, I would be happy to prepare the final plans for them.”

„The thesis concept is required to give a challenge to the student that ensures their enthusiasm, drive and motivation all through the term to work on the project,” László Dunai added after the interview for bme.hu. “When I saw the special aviary in San Diego I was sure I would find the student who will like the idea to design a similar complex adapted to the local environment and conditions as a thesis project. I know Ferenc since he was a first-year student, I was his professor and mentor teacher as well (editor’s note: at the faculty a mentoring system is used to support first year student to adapt to university life). “I proposed the topic to him,” remembered the professor and emphasized that Ferec Szabó made all the effort to find the relevant sources and information to elaborate the plans. “It was very encouraging to see how enthusiastic he was on our weekly meetings,” said the consultant. “The topic is very appealing for me because I love birds and I am taking up bird watching and photographing as a hobby. If the plan is implemented it would be a special and unique experience for the visitors of the Wildlife Park,” emphasized László Dunai.

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Photos: János Philip, Ferenc Szabó