Jamie Ohrt thought she was done with college.
The Albuquerque native had put her biology degree to use for years, working as a zookeeper in Texas and California before returning to her home state of New Mexico. She was well-settled into a six-year stretch as a primate keeper at the ABQ BioPark when the thing that kept getting in the way couldn’t be ignored any longer. Too often, highly engaging experiences for guests came at the expense of functionality for animals and staff alike. Sometimes, the workarounds compromised animal or staff safety.
“The spaces weren’t really designed for the animals or for the people taking care of them and they are the ones living in those spaces” said Jamie, who joined TSP in late May as an architectural graduate. “They were designed almost entirely for visitors and took very little animal husbandry and natural behaviors into account.”
Jamie decided to change careers and apply her insider knowledge to creating better facilities for all inhabitants. Her director at the ABQ BioPark had a simple request: Come back and work for us on the design side.
Jamie did precisely that while earning her Master of Architecture degree from the University of New Mexico. “Most of it really was serving as a translator,” she said. “I translated the zookeeper’s needs to the architecture team and then translated the drawings for the zoo staff. Some of them had never looked at plans or building cross-sections before.”
Jamie advised on several large projects, including an Asia expansion that just went out for construction bids. The work will include habitats for primates, tigers, snow leopards, and sea eagles. She also helped plan future enhancements for Australian species such as wombats, Tasmanian devils, and saltwater crocodiles.
The real-world opportunities also enabled Jamie to enrich the place she’d loved all through childhood. “It started with my home zoo,” she said. “I wanted to go there every birthday, and I visited a lot during school holidays. When I was getting my undergrad, I was thinking about animal-rescue organizations and veterinary-tech jobs, but I didn’t know exactly what I’d do with my biology degree. And then I interned at a few zoos.”
Jamie moved to Sioux Falls in September 2020, shortly after completing her master’s degree. Her partner and former BioPark colleague had taken the job as director of animal care and conservation at the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History. It was a match, too, for Jamie’s independent consulting business. She provided early plan reviews for the black-bear housing project. Along the way, she met TSP Principal and Senior Architect Michelle Klobassa.
Jamie saw in TSP a chance to continue the firm’s strong history of projects for zoos and specialty attractions in the region. She’s also excited to get to work on a planning study for the Glacial Lakes Humane Society in Watertown, SD.
“I think my background gives me a unique perspective on designing for these kinds of facilities,” Jamie said. “I hope to be an asset there. There are things I can bring back from my animal-care knowledge and contribute that way. But I think there are elements that cross over to the health, education, and civic projects that TSP does. There are things I can learn.”
The next trip always is on the horizon, too. Jamie is an avid traveler, and she especially enjoys international getaways. She has a strong Germanic heritage and has spent lots of time in Germany and other destinations in the Alps. A landscape architecture course took Jamie to Paris for the International Garden Competition, held annually at the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire. The historic grounds in the Loire River Valley originally were home to a fortress built around the year 1000. Louis XI burned the structure in 1465 and had it razed to the ground, but it was reconstructed a few years later and now belongs to the French government’s Centre Region. Each year, hundreds of applicants hope to get one of the 60 or so spots in the exhibition, where they’ll showcase their landscape-design talent for six months. Then, their creations literally are uprooted to prepare the earth for the following cycle.
Jamie’s most exotic travel, though, allowed her to experience a bit of home in an entirely new way. “I went to Borneo when I still was working as a primate keeper, and it was really, really amazing,” she said. “I got to see and hear wild orangutans and gibbons and proboscis monkeys in the jungle.”