Taronga Zoo

“Intricate designs, angry elephants and more shade for Taronga Zoo!”

Executive Summary

Nestled on Sydney’s lower north shore, Taronga Zoo remains one of Australia’s most iconic tourist destinations. With more than 1.5 million visitors every year, maintaining adequate public amenities across the 21-hectare site is a critical and ongoing process. For this particular project, the Zoo engaged their own architect to design a series of three new shade shelters to be located adjacent to the popular Indian Elephant enclosure. They appointed Carfax Commercial Constructions to deliver them who, in turn, contracted Fleetwood to detail and fabricate the complex custom structures.



Taronga Conservation Society Australia





Fleetwood Involvement

Fleetwood was engaged through the project’s lead contractor, Carfax Commercial Constructions. With the highly intricate vision already approved by Taronga Zoo, our role was to design the shelters in a way that was actually achievable in the real world! Using our DesignExecute2™ delivery process, we carefully detailed, fabricated and installed the three new custom shelters – all while causing minimal disturbance to the zoo’s visitors and animals.


The shelter design featured several intricate elements that linked it with the wider zoo aesthetic. From a design perspective, the most challenging was a bespoke curved fascia where we needed to conceal all structural connections. There was also a timber soffit in the roof where, again, we needed to find an elegant way to hide the fixings. Our design team spent considerable time ensuring the architect’s vision was preserved in a way that could be practically translated into three beautifully-built structures. 


This was a highly complex project that called for an extraordinary level of detail. With all fixings needing to be hidden, the fabrication and carpentry was a very intricate process. The paint finish also needed to look entirely seamless. Taronga Zoo was very, very strict about the end look.


Detailing the curved fascia to ensure the architect’s vision could be brought to life required a high level of design innovation. It was also crucial to match the aesthetic of the new shelters with the wider design approach of the zoo. The answer was to fully-integrate the roof drainage system, hiding it from plain sight to give each shelter an elegant and streamlined exterior form.


  • Curved fascia 
  • Integrated drainage from roof
  • Hidden drainage system
  • Timber soffit
  • Seamless paint finish

  • Class 1 Australian Hardwood 
  • Steel

The new shelters were located adjacent to the Indian Elephant enclosure at Taronga Zoo, which also happened to be home to a very old and angry male elephant. He used to charge at the fence, so extra measures had to be taken to protect the site, workers and the elephant himself. While highly unlikely he would actually escape, we needed to be on the safe side. It certainly made the project interesting! The zoo also remained open during the entire construction period, so we needed to mitigate any risks with signs and safety barriers. Wherever possible, we worked outside of the zoo’s normal opening hours.


With a history stretching back more than 100 years, Taronga Zoo is a much-loved heritage site. Given the sensitivity of its pristine harbour-side location and resident animals, it is also considered ecologically critical. We were extremely conscious of this when choosing construction methodology and materials, ensuring all decisions were sympathetic with the needs of the unique site. The wellbeing of visitors, zoo staff and the animals was paramount at all times.


The new shade shelters are an oasis of calm within the sprawling 21-hectare site, with a beautiful design blending in seamlessly with the zoo’s natural environment. Whether having lunch or simply catching their breath, the shelters provide an inviting place for visitors to take time out.


Taronga Zoo is a big place that can wear out even the most energetic amongst us! The addition of the new shade shelters and amenities has provided an important opportunity for visitors to pause, relax and recharge – before continuing their day at the zoo.