Visitor’s Walkway in South America House, Zoo Cologne

A winding walkway leads through the humid, lush green landscape. A colourful toucan glides past, in the treetops colibris twitter, and the climbing rock is a meeting place for the red titi monkeys and golden tamarins. In the landmarked South America House built in 1899 visitors to the Zoo in Cologne find themselves in the midst of tropical biodiversity. Across a secured walkway the ‘discoverers’ wander through an artificially created rain forest. Within the scope of extensive restoration and rebuilding measures, POPULAR massive decks from Bavarian specialist for wood composite material NATURinFORM were laid on 95 square metres on the visitor’s walkway.

Patio decks
POPULAR massive in brown

Type of construction
Visitor`s walkway

Building owner
AG Zoologischer Garten Köln

Construction year

Visitor’s Walkway in Cologne Zoo’s South America House

Humans visiting animals

The South America House in Cologne’s Zoo was modernised for a total of 12 million Euros and opened to the public again after a construction time of 28 months at the end of September 2021. In the past, animals were on display in tiled housing sections, nowadays they can roam freely in a ‘rainforest landscape’ similar to their natural habitats and in which visitors can observe the jungle animals.

Landmarked building from the founding period

It was extremely demanding to rebuild and restructure the landmarked building from 1899 to a freely accessible rainforest environment for monkeys, piranhas, leopards, birds, and sloths. The German landmark foundation (DSD) supported the building project with 200,000 Euros to restore the towers and their outer cover. The building surrounded by trees is shaped like a Russian orthodox church and is one of the oldest buildings from the founding time of the zoo next to the Antilope House and the Director’s Villa.

Concept by Dan Pearlman Erlebnisarchitektur

In the Zoo in Cologne a theme world was created that takes visitors on a trip through the flora and fauna of South America – in a way on Humboldt’s tracks. Experience architecture, animal-friendly upkeep, and modern zoological requirements meet historic buildings. The architectural concept awakens the listed South America House to new life. The team of architects surrounding Kieran Stanley – CEO Dan Pearlman Erlebnisarchitektur – were responsible for the design plans. ZOOQUARIUMDESIGN’s architects at their office in Hamburg accompanied this sophisticated project from Performance Phase 5 right up to its final implementation. ‘Goal of our planning was to allow the building to shine again by carefully restoring it and to allow for modern animal upkeep and a special visitor experience,’ the team of Dan Pearlmans architects describe the task. Due to preservation order requirements restoration and development of the old building were a big challenge. Among others the dilapidated roofs and ceilings were renewed and an ETFE membrane roof now treats the central aisle with daylight.


Visitors move around as if on a skywalk

For the planned lush vegetation indoors to be expertly implemented the flooring was removed in the main hall right down to the basement and plant substrate was spread over the lower floor panel. Exotic birds, small monkeys, sloths, and armadillos now can roam freely through the building. Insights into the piranha pool, a waterfall and hanging bridge make the visit unique. Visitors wander on a walkway leading through the jungle like a skywalk. NATURinFORM’s POPULAR massive decks in brown with building approval ensure a safe walk on 95 square metres through the terrain.

POPULAR’s material typical advantages were convincing

‘Here we are presenting a completely new concept,‘ explains Claudia Neunzig. ‘We are not just presenting animals as in the past; visitors can come as close as possible to them in their habitat,’ illustrates the Technical Head of Cologne Zoo. In the past people could only observe animals from one side and not move through the site. When looking for the ideal surface for the visitor walkway leading through the terrain those responsible decided on NATURinFORM’s POPULAR massive deck. ‘Product characteristics such as stability and durability convinced us to use the wood composite material for this area exposed to high amounts of wear and tear,’ says the studied architect.

Slip resistance and simple cleaning

‘We already gained excellent experience with this material with former building measures; and as in this case characteristics such as durability and simple maintenance played a decisive role, the choice was made not for wood but for wood composite material. Furthermore, the processing company with its expertise gave us advice and suggested NATURinFORM’s massive deck. It was important for us not only to have a natural wooden look, but also attributes such as slip resistance and easy cleaning.’ The high amount of stress due to countless visitors and soiling by animals that roam freely require that the decks be cleaned every day. Each morning before the zoo’s gates open the visitor walkway is washed down intensively with a water hose. ‘Today, after around a year of intensive use the visitor walkway still looks perfect and confirms that we made the right choice,’ says Claudia Neunzig.

After the balconies and patios had been completed Lutz Saupe was very content with his team’s performance. And the customer also came to a positive conclusion. ‘The decks and subconstruction were expertly and professionally processed by the layer,’ says Sven Steinhäuser. ‘It requires good work planning in close cooperation between the layer and the architects to consider all connecting points and interfaces.’

Decision in favour of indestructible wood composite material

From autumn 2020 to February 2021 a team of four from carpentry Kurth was on site. The tradesmen covered a total of 95 square metres with POPULAR massive in the colour brown on the visitor walkway. ‘Right at the beginning of the planning process it was discussed whether to use wood for the surface,’ Berthold Kurth remembers. The company from Nettersheim-Frohngau was founded in 1969 by today’s company head’s father and employs ten workers. As traditional wood did not fit into the concept, though, and tropical wood was definitely out of the question, the decision was made for hard-wearing wood composite material with its authentic look of wood. The material was delivered by Scherf Holzfachhandel GmbH & Co.KG from Simmerath, a long-standing trade partner of NATURinFORM’s.

AbZ required for load-bearing constructions

Decisive was the fact that POPULAR massive has received ‘general building approval’ (AbZ). For this high amount of stress ‘at an altitude’ a deck with the required stress loadability was required. Other than with floor-level patios, constructions such as balconies and patios over 60 centimetres usually count as ‘elevated’ in federal building regulations and must therefore be planned and executed as load-bearing constructions. Only building products with building approval may be used in these cases; otherwise, time-consuming, and expensive individual approvals need to be obtained. The walkway’s loadbearing construction consists of steel beams and a steel construction attached onto it that was statically calculated and tested, as well as continuously adapted during planning and execution. Additional massive grids ensure further stability and drop protection.
Afterwards Kurth’s team began to work. ‘First we screwed NATURinFORM’s aluminium profiles onto the steel subconstruction, onto which we laid the decks according to the architect’s planning drawings,’ explains Berthold Kurth, who had made the measurements in advance. What looks quite complicated at first glance was a routine task for the expert company. ‘As a carpentry specialised in exhibition construction as well as sophisticated property building, we frequently build round counters or 3D objects. Therefore, the visitor walkway in the South America House was a fairly easy task for us to handle,’ says Berthold Kurth.

High slip resistance

The POPULAR massive deck which is 26 millimetres high and 139 millimetres wide (system width ca. 146 mm) has both a finely and a widely striated side. Both surfaces have been classified highest slip resistance R 13 by the TÜV Rheinland. The available colours are brown and black brown, as well as grey, stone grey and anthracite. Besides the standard lengths of four and six metres the decks are also available on customer request in other lengths. The material consists as do all the manufacturer’s products of an innovative, robust wood composite material which is produced at the ratio of 70 to 30 of wood fibres from domestic, PEFC certified wood and a pure polymer. No trees are felled for this. Wood fibres are used that are a side product from the woodworking industry. This makes the material an environmentally and climate friendly product that in addition can be recycled 100 percent. When the decks are no longer being used, they are taken back by the company after they have been checked and are re-fed into the production process.


Simple care and maintenance

Even though the decks made of wood composite material are mainly used on patios and balconies, they are often used for highly frequented surfaces due to their sturdiness. The wooden decks need neither be oiled nor painted and the modern material excels regarding its resistance to dirt and stains. These disappear on their own after a while, as the material prevents soiling from penetrating deeply. With private patios in general it is enough to thoroughly clean the product once a year; dust, pollen, as well as other dirt can easily be removed using water and a brush, or even with a high-pressure cleaner, without any solvents. The decks consist to 70 percent of wood fibres and should therefore not be cleaned using strong detergents or scratching devices. Under no circumstances should a steam cleaner, detergents with solvents, chlorine cleaners or steel brushes be used for cleaning. In case of especially stubborn stains, NATURinFORM offers a biodegradable WPC special cleaning agent.

There are environmental product declarations according to international standards available (EPDs) for all of NATURinFORM’s decks and façade profiles. All products are continuously monitored by quality controls and stress tests, to guarantee a constant perfect and first-class wood composite quality. The company provides a five-year guarantee on its products.

Download: Press Release
Product information: popular massive