Feb 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman
This issue's story on the expansion of the George Aquarium ballroom (p. 12) hit my desk shortly after I got a release about an AV exhibit dubbed “Big Cat Falls” at the Philadelphia Zoo. All that came my way soon after news broke about the fatal mauling at the San Francisco Zoo.
While no one would think that an AV-related exhibit might somehow have saved that young man's life in San Francisco, I do wonder about the potential for AV support at zoos and aquariums. Wouldn't museum-style coverage of their inhabitants be an elegant and safe way to augment the “in-person” ambiance of these venues? I checked with Andrew Kidd, business development manager at Electrosonic, New York — a company that was involved in the original installation work at both the Georgia Aquarium (in 2005) and Big Cat Falls. Kidd suggests that, at zoos and aquarium exhibits specifically, AV possesses great potential to add to the experience, but currently, the exploitation of that potential is limited.
“At Big Cat Falls, what we did, technically, was hardly brand-new — it was largely about projection and interactive touchscreens, mainly standard museum stuff,” he says. “But it's equipment that you do not often see in a zoo environment — the sort of technology more closely associated with a museum or visitor's center. There is a lot of potential in that, since there are many things about the creatures you can't see [even if] you take some sort of guided tour or read every one of those tiny [informational] panels. I'm no expert on zoos, but I imagine they have tremendous costs involved with maintaining the animals and their staff, and so, how many of them have budgets to pay for those kinds of exhibits?”
Still, it's a potential growing market for installers to at least investigate. After all, as Kidd points out, while it might be costly to add AV attractions to existing zoos and aquariums, the concept of adding a scalable AV infrastructure to new facilities, such as the George Aquarium, makes all the sense in the world.
“Multimedia AV is far more likely to be implemented in a new building than retrofitted into some old facility,” he says. “If someone is designing and building a museum, visitor's center, or aquarium from scratch, they don't have to deal with the history and limitations of [the existing building], and they are likely to find it far more cost-effective to put in the cable structure for multimedia than they would in a retrofit. Still, zoos and aquariums will always be [niche markets] for this sort of thing because, by their nature, they are facilities that have to put safety and staff ahead of multimedia. But there is a niche group of designers that specialize in zoos, and [installation companies] have the expertise to assist them in implementing their ideas.”