Houston Zoo Elephant Walk

Over the years zoos around the world have evolved from cramped, unnatural shelters to more natural, larger enclosures with water features, native plants, and built-in enrichment areas to provide the animals with physical and mental stimulation. In addition to being a more pleasing environment for the animals, it also creates a more beautiful, spacious environment for human visitors.

The Houston Zoo recently upgraded its Asian elephant enclosure and included a stunning Ipé walkway with observation platforms and seating. Forney Construction, based in Houston, was awarded the project as general contractor, and they in turn hired Sparq 1200, a visual environment specialist, as subcontractor.Sparq 1200, relying on previous experience, knew Overseas Hardwoods Company was easy to work with and provided the highest quality product.

Sparq 1200 had a vision for how to economically complete the walkway and hired House Partners Architecture, an Ipé-installation expert, to install it. OHC came onsite for a consultation and suggested some changes which enabled Sparq 1200 to cut costs and save money. John Bone, President and Owner of Sparq 1200, commented, “Working with OHC was great; they understand dynamics of large commercial jobs and react to stay ahead of the game.” OHC exotic hardwoods are ideal for public spaces thanks to their durability and lifespan; they’re an excellent economical choice considering how long they last, even in high-traffic areas.

The zoo expansion doubled the size of the elephant enclosure, adding a 7,000 square-foot barn for the bull elephants, a 160,000 gallon pond with a state-of-the-art filtration system, and of course, the Ipé walkway.

The walkway itself meanders around the perimeter of the enclosure, with two elevations, creating an auditorium-like area where visitors can sit or stand to enjoy the elephants. Sparq 1200’s creative design was approved for the shade structure, made of overlapping Ipé squares comprising a pyramid shape, to provide a cooler observation spot on a hot summer day. Additional skirting around the bottom of the walkway was also crafted from Ipé.

Ipé was chosen both for its long lifespan and its beauty. It can withstand the hot Texas sun with stability and without splitting or splintering, and it naturally resists insect attacks, rot and decay near the water features.

The walkway must stand up against the thousands of visitors it receives each day. To provide traction, OHC machined a 1 3/16” line into every other board to create an anti-skid traction area, keeping everyone safe, from small children to elderly visitors and everyone in between. John Bone again praised OHC, noting that “OHC’s processing capabilities enable us to have precise machining for the traction groove, saving time and creating a very consistent result.”

OHC lumber is a win for the zoo, creating a safe, beautiful and long-lasting habitat for the elephants and humans, and a win for the project’s contractors. In fact, Fortney Construction and Sparq 1200 had such a good experience that they’ll be utilizing OHC hardwoods for several upcoming major public space projects.