Elephant House at Copenhagen Zoo
by Foster + Partners

| 34 comments

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The new Elephant House at Copenhagen Zoo, designed by architects Foster + Partners, opened yesterday.

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The house features two glass-domed enclosures, allowing bull elephants to get away from the rest of the herd when they need to be alone.

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Above and below: sketches by Norman Foster

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Below is the press release from Foster + Partners:

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10 June 2008

Elephant House opens at Copenhagen Zoo

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The new Elephant House at Copenhagen Zoo opened today following an official ceremony attended by His Royal Highness the Prince Consort of Denmark and his grandson, Prince Christian.

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This 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.

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The project has been driven by research into the behavioural patterns of elephants. The tendency for bull elephants in the wild to roam away from the main herd prompted a plan organised around two separate enclosures. 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 characterised as closed.

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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 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.

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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.

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The Elephant House is Foster + Partners’ first zoological building. Inserted into the natural contours of the site, it 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.

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It is built with a warm terracotta-coloured concrete and the yellow beach-like sand that naturally existed on the site has been recycled to create the paddocks. The colours and textures convey a sense of the dry riverbed as found at the edge of the rainforest – a favourite haunt of Asian elephants.

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With mud holes, scattered pools of water and shading objects, the new Elephant House is a place where the animals can play and interact naturally. Broad public viewing terraces run around the domes externally, while a ramped promenade leads down into an educational space, looking into the enclosures along the way.

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Spencer de Grey, Senior Executive and Head of Design said: “As our first zoo project, we were asked to create a new enclosure for a herd of Asian Elephants in Denmark’s renowned Copenhagen Zoo. We have designed a building that not only responds to the animals’ natural behaviour, 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.”

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Notes to editors:

  • Copenhagen Zoo is the most visited cultural institution in Denmark, attracting over 1.2 million visitors a year and is set within an historic royal park, adjacent to the Fredriksberg Palace
  • The carefully considered landscape, designed by Stig L Andersson, seeks to reinforce the relationship between the zoo and the adjacent royal park and provides the public with more accessible viewing and educational facilities.
  • New standards have been set in terms of the elephants’ well-being. 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 ‘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.

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  • http://www.pacocaballer.com PacoCaballer

    Who says there is not drawings at this site?
    Nowadays best blog in the world! I love it!
    Best wishes

  • jay

    it has a really old school feel to it..60s style or something..one of the few architects that still publishes hand drawn “first” ideas

  • http://www.danielbrowns.com Daniel Brown

    If its good enough for the British Museum, its good enough for some old elephants ;-)

  • Nancy Mendoza

    Denmark has a high suicide rate. Is it because of architecture like this?

  • lk

    wow i bet the elephants are loving this architectural masterpiece…not!

  • jolie

    I’d like to be an elephant

  • Frederik

    Nancy Mendoza: Denmark is not anywhere near the highest suicide rate. http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suiciderates/en/

    Beautiful building BTW!

  • F

    Norway is .
    on another note , elephants deserve Foster .

  • http://- Volker

    Another example of an elephant house witch was built under the “hands off” laws for EU members…well…but in my opinion not realy a nice one.
    It looks like as if they’ve tried to make the elephants think that they live free and their natural shelter would be the big green glassy mountains. Come on! Elephants are not that stupid. At least back in their boxes they will smell a rat…

    “The colours and textures convey a sense of the dry riverbed as found at the edge of the rainforest”
    - And how about the outside? I thought it should be an Elephant House. Not a “Teletubbiebunker”…
    btw: his sketches look more like a opened bra lying on the floor.

    “A computer script was written to rotate, scale and randomly populate the roof, so that no two ‘leaves’ are the same.”
    - Impressive. I’d realy like to meet the guy with the shitty leaf idea.

    “The Elephant House is Foster + Partners’ first zoological building”
    - As you can see…

    Anyway. A footprint would be nice to see how they’ve managed things like the entrance height or the barrier-free entrance etc.

  • brii

    however … stop imprisoning those poor huge animals into 2 bubbles.. its not going to make it better!

  • dudenw

    too artificial space for animals …

  • andresr

    what are you people talking about… it makes perfect sense for elephants to live in gigantic, transparent turtle carcasses!

  • edward

    “We are delighted to learn that the elephants are enjoying their new home.”

    Hey, that says it all. Mission accomplished.

  • apiss

    now this made me want to be an elephant… lol

  • Eve

    Poor elephant!

  • John

    lots of stupid comments on this one (this one included)

  • yrag

    Effite sneering really has been buffed to a high gloss on this site.

    “Nancy Mendoza Says:
    Denmark has a high suicide rate. Is it because of architecture like this?”

    “F Says:
    “elephants deserve Foster .”

    F- aside from the snide comment, any positive suggestions? Wht would you do? dezeen deserves better F.

    “brii Says:
    however … stop imprisoning those poor huge animals into 2 bubbles.. its not going to make it better!

    Sure brii— do nothing. They are headed to extinction in their nature habitat. The sad truth is that due to the human cancer upon the Earth which ain’t relenting anytime soon, Zoos are in many cases the last refuge before that grim end. What are you going to do to make it better brii? Blow more pious hot air?

    Oh, and for the King of sarcastic Pissers—Volker, “Elephants are not that stupid. At least back in their boxes they will smell a rat…” Man that’s a superb thought Volker! Tough Love— is that it? Make their existance as miserable as possible so they can really revel in a grim captivity. You’ve got a big heart buddy— or this: “his sketches look more like a opened bra lying on the floor.” Ooo— ‘SNAP’ bitch! And finally: “Impressive. I’d realy like to meet the guy with the shitty leaf idea.” Why so you could impress him with your shitty attitude?

    People, this is at least an attempt to make “the best” of the sad reality of this planet.

    Are any of you brilliant wags bringing forth ANY solutions? Probably not. Just petty dilettantes that THINK they’re oh so clever— clever by half.

  • Frederik

    There is a more showing picture of the overall facility at this page:

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=415393&page=83

  • p

    could I move with them?

  • O

    Yrag, love You!

  • nekro

    well said yrag….constructive comments owns uber stupidity volker ;)

  • unpopular

    oh norman, the old fogy… always pleases but never delights.

  • David

    the domes reminds me of elephant’s trunks (from the interior shots), i don’t know why.

  • El Greco

    Yrag’s frothiness indicates he/she has taken it personally. Don’t get us wrong Yrag, as corporate architecture goes, Foster is fine. I do have to say that the project says more “train station” than “elephant habitat”. I could be wrong–perhaps elephants love techno-Baroque domes.

  • edward

    Intelligent response to a design, requires, I would think, a recognition of one’s limitations regarding access to functional requirements, the program. Absent that, a critique would best be limited to areas where one can reasonably make assumptions. How many respondents here have any knowledge of elephant behavior. Lacking that, there is little to be said of the design other than the spaces under the domes seem correctly sized to the animals and these spaces would provide an ambient temperature during winter months in tune with the origin of the beasts. IMO.

  • andrew

    Compared to the elephant enclosure at the LA Zoo its seems like the elephants will be happy here. (The one in LA is crappy and you can tell the elephants are miserable living there). All though I don’t see why they could have just put it outside and build a nice modern looking enclosure

  • mikeyc2606

    Great ambition nice project, hope the elephantss are happy…
    Id love to see what the nay-sayers would propose… fools get a life.. and a job

  • massimo

    non si può essere così poco naturali con la natura!

  • Natan

    Cuando sobra el dinero para hacer estas obras, y hay mucha gente que no tiene nada para comer, ya no un techo para cubrirse, algo anda mal en el mundo, ¡qué lástima! ¡qué falta de sensibilidad humana!
    estos elefantes viven mejor que millones de seres humanos…
    Será porque quieren seguir así, es que expulsan a extranjeros…
    Toda América recibió europeos pobres en el último siglo y medio, nuestros países están repletos de gente, todavía vivos de Europa, que vinieron a esta tierra sin dinero, y se les recibe y trata como hermanos…
    Nosotros no lo vamos a cambiar…Sres. europeos, mientras los contribuyentes no se quejen por estas “inversiones” millonarias para elefantes, que no las necesitan, hubiera sido mejor una construcción ecológica, y más económica…seguirá así…qué lástima por la humanidad.

  • Natan

    Mr. Foster & Partners…you must be shame.
    It`s no necessary this great millonary building for elephants…¿have you heard of the eco/bio-architecture…Your proyect is for the “applause” of your friends and so…The architects also are human…and so many human are without a mini house, without meat…shame of you and your “world”!!

  • Gelly

    It is obvious none of those who are so ready to criticize this elephant house have not come even close to it, let alone visited it. Aside from two dome structures there is plenty of room for elephants outside. I have seen a young elephant chasing ducks away, another one spraying itself in the little pond and yet another pulling branches and throwing them around just for fun. All under clear blue sky (which is unusual Danish weather).

    Sand has been put there because it is harder to walk on and helps keep elephant’s leg muscles strong because they don’t get to walk as much as when they are in wilderness. Also, zoo keepers burry objects in the sand so that elephants would not get bored and could develop their curiosity and cognitive abilities.

    Let’s not forget that in the wild elephants can get attack by lions, dehydrate, get sick… all the things that they are protected from in Copenhagen Zoo.

    I must say, Copenhagen Zoo is one of the rare zoos where I didn’t feel depressed and sorry for animals. They have huge spaces to live in, are well taken care of, and are playful and happy to look at.

  • Gelly

    It is obvious none of those who are so ready to criticize this elephant house have not come even close to it, let alone visited it. Aside from two dome structures there is plenty of room for elephants outside. I have seen a young elephant chasing away ducks, another one spraying itself with water in the pond and yet another pulling branches and throwing them around just for fun. All under clear blue sky (which is unusal Danish weather).

    Reason why they put sand as floor cover is because it is harder to walk on and thus helps keep elephant leg mucles strong, because they don’t walk as much as they do in the wilderness. Also, zoo kepers burry objects in the sand so that elephants would not get vored and could develop their curiousity and cognitive abilities.

    Let’s not forget that in the wild epehants can get attacked by predators, dehydrate, get sick… all the things that they are protecter from in Copenhagen Zoo.

    I must say, Copenhagen Zoo is one of the rare zoos where I didn’t feel depressed and sorry for the animals. They have huge spaces to live in, part where they can get privacy from eyes od the public, are well taken care of, and are playful and happy to look at.

  • Till

    It appears to be quite a successful project – responds to site, function, animals & planet in simple & meaningful ways.

  • rachel

    Where is the vegetation??