Elephant House
Norman Foster & Partners

June 23, 2008 /


Photo: arcspace

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.

The tendency for bull elephants in the wild to roam away from the main herd prompted a plan organized around two separate enclosures.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

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.

Photo © Richard Davies

Photo © Richard Davies

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.

Photo © Richard Davies

Photo © Richard Davies

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 scheme.

Photo: arcspace

Photo © Richard Davies

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 Asian elephants.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

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.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

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

Sketch courtesy Foster + Partners/Norman Foster

Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSite Plan
Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersPlan18-elephant_house.jpg
Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSection19-elephant_house.jpg
Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSection20-elephant_house.jpg
Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSection

Facts about Elephant House

Total area:

8,800 m2
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

See also

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