Project Description

San Francisco Zoo and Gardens

1 zebra, 1 cape buffalo, 5 rhesus monkeys, 2 spider monkeys, and 3 elephants.

These were the first animal exhibits when the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens found its permanent home in 1929 on a 30-acre site near the Pacific Ocean. Over the past 90 years, the number of species in its care has grown from 5 to more than 250; and the Zoo’s campus has expanded from 30 acres to 100 acres of outdoor trails, play areas, and engaging wildlife experiences.

Equally the Zoo’s mission has evolved—from one of public recreation and amusement to one of conservation, research, and education.

MKThink is the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens’ strategic planning partner in reimagining and strengthening its role as a center for conservation and in advancing its mission –-“Connect, Care, Conserve.” The Physical Framework Plan is transforming the 100-acre campus from a collection of attractions into an integrated landscape of diverse habitats that more closely approximate species’ natural ones and amply provide for their behavioral needs.

MKThink developed an implementation strategy that combines incremental improvements and large-scale renovations. Construction is already underway, in partnership with Holmes Structures, W.E.S. Landscape Architecture, and Scientific Art Studio.

Snow Leopard Expansion The project will increase the size of the current habitat to accommodate the recent birth of two snow leopard cubs and introduce an integrated Cat Family Breeding Center. The Center will extend the Zoo’s 61-year snow leopard breeding program to support the breeding of all cat species in its care.

Lipman Family Madagascar Center An expansion of the Lipman Family Lemur Forest, the Center will feature lemur “care condos”, a rainforest, and a remodel of the adjacent primate center.  The Center brings a biodiversity hotspot to San Francisco and aspires to be the closet experience of Madagascar outside of the island itself.

Coastal Conversation Center The San Francisco Zoo and Gardens holds the distinction of being the only zoological park on the West Coast with a direct connection to the Pacific Ocean. A temporary pop-up currently marks the site for the future Coastal Conservation Center, which will provide a portal to the Pacific Ocean and serve as a touchpoint on a journey that takes visitors from exotic animals to the native flora and fauna of California.

Zoos (and aquariums) are more critical than ever to the preservation of global biodiversity. More than half of the wildlife in the world’s most biodiverse areas could face extinction by the end of the century.[1] These institutions hold expertise in the science of small population management.  Developed primarily for managing populations in human care, this expertise is directly applicable to animal conservation programs in shrinking habitats in the wild and to breeding programs to reintroduce animal species.

As the Zoo looks ahead to the next 100 years, the vision is for a wildlife conservation preserve set in an urban environment. With more than a million visitors a year, the Zoo offers an unrivaled platform for connecting city dwellers with global ecosystems through up close encounters with wildlife—many of which are endangered, threatened, or rescued species. These encounters raise awareness of environmental issues around the world, emphasize the urgent need for conservation efforts, and shape the next generation of environmental champions.

The San Francisco Zoo and Gardens was born out of a depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) project that sought to alleviate unemployment while developing infrastructure to support the current and future society. In its stewardship of biodiversity, the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens is carrying on its originating mission by protecting animals and the natural world for future generations.

Project name

Physical Framework Plan & Implementation


San Francisco, CA


2013 – Present


In progress


100 Acres


San Francisco Zoo and Gardens