Norman Foster & Partners
The new Elephant House provides these magnificent animals with a stimulating environment, including easily accessible spaces for the public to enjoy them, and restores the visual relationship between the zoo and the park.
Covered with lightweight, glazed domes to provide natural light,
these enclosures are designed to bring a sense of light and
openness to a building type traditionally characterized as closed.
The spaces maintain a strong visual connection with the sky and
changing patterns of daylight and the distinctive "fritting" on the
glazing simulates a canopy of trees.
The "fritting" pattern on the glazed roof canopies was created
by sampling four species of tree. A computer script was written to
rotate, scale and randomly populate the roof, so that no two
"leaves" are the same. The overlapping pattern provides
naturalistic dappled light.
The floor in the main herd stable is covered in sand (500 mm deep). The sand is more comfortable to sleep on as it moulds to the shape of the body, drains away urine and keeps the elephant's feet dry and free from infections.
The varying levels on the site are exploited in cross-section.
The elephant enclosures are set deep into the ground, ensuring
excellent insulation on the perimeter walls and a natural fusion
with the landscape. Additionally, the glazed domes have opening
windows to allow natural ventilation and there is a heat recovery
system - further enhancing the environmental efficiency of the
The architects used a warm terra cotta concrete and, to create
the paddocks, recycled the yellow beach-like sand that existed on
the site. The colors and textures convey a sense of the dry
riverbed found at the edge of the rain forest - a favorite haunt of
New standards have been set in terms of the elephants' well-being. The landscape is made of sand and includes a 3 meter deep and 60 meter long lake. With mud holes, scattered pools of water and shading objects, the animals can play and interact naturally.
The main herd enclosure will, for the first time, enable
elephants in captivity to spend the night together, as they would
in the wild.
The new Elephant House replaces a structure dating from 1914 and sets new standards in zoological design, providing the animals with a stimulating environment that recreates aspects of their former Asian habitat.
We have designed a building that not only responds to the animals natural behavior, but is also a seamless insertion into the landscape that uses the site's natural properties to provide thermal insulation. We are delighted to learn that the elephants are enjoying their new home./Spencer de Grey
Senior Executive and Head of Design
Facts about Elephant House
Building: 3,250 m2
External paddocks: 3,500 m2
Visitor circulation/landscape: 2, 050 m2
Stig L. Andersson
Photographed by Richard Davies
Realdania Foundation for Copenhagen Zoo
Last updated: December 19, 2013
Weil am Rhein,