Best Landscape/Hardscape/Urban Development Project

The largest facility ever constructed at the Houston Zoo—the $25-million African Forest Exhibit—was delivered by Gilbane Building Co., Houston, on time and on budget in June 2011.

The 6.5-acre, 283,140-sq-ft fast-track project was completed in conjunction with PJA Architects, Seattle; the development manager, Hines, Houston; and the zoo's internal project team.

The exhibit includes 11 new structures, including the Chimpanzee House, White Rhino and Kudu Exhibit, a Giraffe Barn, Cheetah Exhibit, the Twiga terrace restaurant, the Shani Market gift shop and a ticket booth. The chimps hide in the Chimp Viewing building in uncannily realistic shotcrete trees.

Located across from the Texas Medical Center, the Houston Zoo project posed many challenges. The Gilbane team had one month to bid and contract prior to the start of construction, and the project had 38 change order requests, 400-plus RFIs and more than 150 ASIs requested by the zoo.

For example, the design drawings indicated a 12-in. existing sewer line, but the line turned out to be an old collapsed 8-in. clay tile line. To keep moving forward, the project team shored the Giraffe Barn, which was under construction, and replaced the line back to the main line from the Texas Medical Center.

City officials would not permit the shutdown of a major thoroughfare to install the new sewer line, so Gilbane bored under an active roadway to expedite completion of the line and adhere to the city's requirements.

Rain and construction access also posed major challenges. Several areas of the site did not drain thoroughly, leaving large pockets of collected water. To facilitate access, the project team purchased large mats to build a road for trucks and equipment.

In addition, because only one service road served the site, the team agreed to eliminate some exhibit fencing and rock work until the final part of the project to allow construction access and to keep things on schedule.

Furthermore, in order to adhere to animal quarantine requirements, the chimpanzee holding building required animal occupancy. With a building full of chimpanzees, the project team identified one person responsible for human and animal safety.

"The success of the African Forest reflects the results of a true team effort," says John Ros, senior vice president of Gilbane Building Co. "From top to bottom the Gilbane, Hines and the zoo team pulled together to overcome many obstacles to finish this job on time, within budget and safely.

"The African Forest will be a tremendous resource for our community for generations to come, and we are proud to have contributed to the project's successful delivery," Ros says.

Owner: Houston Zoo, Houston

General Contractor: Gilbane Building Co., Houston

Lead Design: PJA Architects, Seattle

Civil: Pate Engineers, Houston

Structural: Ingenium, Houston

MEP: I.A. Naman, Houston

Specialty Structural Engineer: Arcon Engineers, San Diego

Submitted by:

Gilbane Building Co.