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HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center, Nashville Zoo, Nashville, TN

March 2020
EDAC Advocate Firm Project

ESa (Earl Swensson Associates)


EBD Goal

The mission of the Zoo’s veterinary center is: “we are a window for the world to witness compassionate veterinary care and collaborative research to conserve all species." In order to achieve this, the goal was to meld the natural world with the manmade world.


The guiding principles for the new Veterinary Center, which replaced a 30-year-old facility, are animal care, education, destination and discovery. These principles are demonstrated primarily with the covered observation deck that has tiered seating and a viewing platform to allow visitors to witness surgery and procedures as they occur. Public traffic is separated from back-of-house functions to enable staff to perform daily tasks, while encouraging animal and visitor safety. The new facility includes an OR, treatment room, an ICU, nursery, X-ray room, lab, pharmacy and other ancillary spaces.


The challenge was how to accomplish this melding within budget while creating the needed environment for animal care. The site had been a dumpsite for rock and dirt on the Zoo’s property, and it was determined that the large rocks on the site could be used in the landscaping. The facility’s use of building materials illustrates the convergence of nature and man with the natural materials of wood, stone and rock contrasting with metal, concrete and glass.


Prior to beginning the Veterinary Center’s design, evidence-based design principles were analyzed to determine how they could be incorporated to achieve best possible outcomes. Every opportunity possible was created to include natural light and a connection to the outdoors in all animal care spaces: the nursery, surgery, ICU and treatment rooms. A tall clerestory brings light into the main corridor and lab. Treatment and holding areas incorporate daylighting to help preserve animals’ natural circadian rhythms. For the benefit of staff, the classroom, lobby, conference room and offices have access to natural light. Other EBD strategies include:

• Positive distractions – observation deck; interaction with veterinarians; natural light in the OR, treatment rooms and nursery; art/sculpture/ architectural features/furniture
• Control/safety features – inside and outside animal holding; push alley guiding animals along the corridor; induction holding; cameras that allow for monitoring of animals in holding areas and in the laboratory and pharmacy
• Social support – animal keepers; other animals; enrichment resources (food grown on premises, such as bamboo)
• Environmental controls – separate HVAC systems for temperature and humidity control for animal holding areas; low exterior light pollution; bio retention pond; use of natural materials
• Access to nature – gardens, nearby exhibits and greenways

The former veterinary center had no nursery for newborns; they were placed in offices for care. The new nursery provides a temperature-controlled environment allowing for better care and monitoring for hand-reared neonates. Viewing windows into treatment, surgery and nursery spaces, supported by interpretive staff, allow personnel to educate the public about conservation and healthcare provided to the animals. Guest experiences are now being measured.


The Center began operation in December 2018. Records of procedures and testing show improvement when comparing results conducted in 2019 and 2018 (comparison period, March 1 to June 1). Overall, comparisons support the fact that even with more zoo exhibits, healthcare of the animals is now more efficient than before. Most of the lab tests are being conducted in-house, allowing for more rapid diagnosis and treatment. In addition, the facility was awarded a Silver-Level LEED certification.