Savannehuis by LAM Architects



Dutch architects LAM have completed a sustainable giraffe enclosure for Rotterdam Zoo, which opens next week.


The architects adopted a "Cradle to Cradle" approach to the design and construction of the project, claiming the enclosure is the first such building designed for animals and is the most sustainable animal house in the Netherlands.


The enclosure, modeled on African coral, has been designed to take advantage of passive solar heating and natural ventilation and lighting.


Specially designed 'cuddle walls' - steel elements heated by the burning of wood chips - provide warmth for the giraffes without the need to heat the whole enclosure.


The Savannehuis opens on 8 July. Photographs are by Franken Architecturalphotograph

Here are further details from LAM Architects:



Sustainable Giraffe House Opens Doors

On July 8  the mayor of Rotterdam (mayor AbouTaleb) opens the most sustainable building designed for animals in the Netherlands: the Savannah House in the Rotterdam Zoo (Blijdorp).


Cradle to Cradle

The Savannah House is unique: it is the first building designed for animals according to the principles of the sustainability philosophy called Cradle to cradle. An assignment that fits the ambitions of the Rotterdam Zoo, where sustainability is on of the key issues. “It forced us to unite the tensions between the neutral climate requirements ambitions and that of a healthy climate for the African animals. The end result gives a special satisfaction’. Says Menno Lam of LAM architects (Wageningen).


Sustainable shelter & healthy indoor climate.

The accommodation for the giraffe is designed as a "shelter", of witch the archetype of the African coral has served as the model. The design provides a comfortable place for the animals. It also gives them more living space, for the giraffes are free and can go in and out as the please. To create a sustainable building with a good indoor climate, the design takes into account the natural elements: sun, wind and rain.


For natural light and heat so-called passive solar energy is used. The roof is transparent and the height of the walls is determined for the best solar potential. Inside but also outside, because even on a beautiful sunny autumn or winter day, the animals are able to stand at the north side outside the building and in the sun (see section). On cold and cloudy days is usually sufficient only to heat the animals instead of the whole 4500m3 residence. This is possible  because the giraffes can find the necessary warmth ad so called "cuddle-walls”.  The heat that is required for these "cuddle-walls” are woodchips burned  in stead of fossil fuels.

Natural ventilation also contributes to the pleasant atmosphere. This is possible because the building and the ventilation are oriented at the most common wind direction. The principle of negative air pressure pulls the wind trough the building. The annually rainfall of approximately 330,000 litres, on the roof of the Savannah House will be collected and used for the thirsty plants in the adjacent building.

Animal welfare

The floor plan is without corners, to provide a relaxed and natural behaviour of the animals. In this way, they are not able clamp each other at a corner, the animals can always turn their back on a approaching conflict an run away. The 'bulging' of the facade gives the animals more freedom. The giraffes will never experience the physical limits of the building, for the building bends away from them.

Many materials within “licking-range” of the giraffes are applied untreated. This is to prevent them from toxic substances, witch could get in through this licking. Where it is not possible to have an untreated solution a very durable non toxic application is used.

A specially designed “crush” ensures that animals are not to be stunned by research. In addition, an investigation or operation, because of this “crush” is quickly and smoothly done.


The Savannah House, with its specific characteristics, is comfortable for the animals, user-friendly and energy efficient/effective. Sustainability is not only reflected in the energetic concept of the design but also in, plan and materials including untreated wood with FSC-label and grasses as reed and pressed bamboo. By carefully selecting and applying the right materials the building is nearly free of maintenance, convenient for operating costs, but also for the environment. Less maintenance means even less annoyance for the animals, the public and less environmental harassment.

Function of the buidling: Giraffe-house and visitor centre

Gross Floor area: approx. 570m2

Gross capacity: approx. 4600m3

Construction: September 2007 – November 2008

Building costs: ca. 900.000,-- excl. installations

Client: Stichting Koninklijke Rotterdamse Diergaarde, Rotterdam Zoo  (__+31(0) 10- 44 31 431)

Datum of Commissioning: July 2009

Design: LAM architects bna

Structural engeneer: CAE Nederland

Wooden frames: Heko Spanten

Buidling contractor: Dura Vermeer Heyma Rotterdam

E-contractor: Electro-Four

Posted on Wednesday July 1st 2009 at 11:40 am by Brad Turner. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • windbag

    Piano lovers.
    the architect, not the instrument.

  • primo

    now, let me think. what does this remind me of…?

  • Roy

    It competes with the inhabitants instead of complementing them. Also burning anything is not sustainable.

  • One

    Cheep Piano!

  • erik

    Primo, i thought the same thing when i saw the project.
    what are the chances….

  • harry

    to all the ‘design police’ cynics above:

    why don’t you see things for what they are rather than what they look like….there’s more to architecture than just a shape.

  • Dave

    Reminds me of the Tjibaou Cultural Centre by Renzo. Those are some lucky Giraffes.

  • ray

    i am sorry, i can see his idea…but cant stop my brain thinking of Piano….

  • INawe

    bravo… a truly green building… cradle to cradle.

  • bethany

    nice for the people but it looks rather small and crowded from the giraffes’

  • freedom

    reminds me of the new caledonis piano project.

    but what beautiful thatch my goodness!

  • hj

    i’m always surprised how people can’t seem to look beyond the superficiality of form.

  • meo gia

    i like the way using material, it’s fantastic !

  • Freek Betty

    Well I agree………… lucky giraffes. I agree again ………..look beyond ………and READ before you criticise. Because especially when you take the time to read the article and design approach one will understand this unique design. I think it is designed from within and around the animals in stead of making a just a ‘shape’. Clearly the designer took interests in the inhabitants. here ‘form follows function’ or rather behaviour and weather. If you look at Piano there is quit a difference Piano’s design is much larger, more details and I guess more expensive.. Different use of materials on top of this……….it does not compete with it at all. By the way , I love the suggested African atmosphere and when you look at a different photo, one will see the building at the front and one can clearly see the difference , or rather that it is not at all like Piano’s, it quite unique.
    Might I suggest to the people Who only watch pictures to read and observe, look closely before one criticises it??
    In my opinion great architecture, fits the zoo and the animals perfectly, Love to go there so….

    I am going to look at it soon,

  • octopoos

    wonderful project.
    did the designers mean african “corral”? just curious, it’s probably just spelled differently from what i’m accustomed to.
    i’m not too familiar with african architecture, but the stick, mud, and plant material imagery, along with the circular forms found in their huts and clusters creates a great vernacular reinterpretation
    (the project could look like coral as well…)
    would have been nice to have shown some exterior views of the visitor approach. looks like in the section, the beams would have had a different expression from the other side photo’d. would be interesting to compare the two sides…
    at the same time, all the shots seem griraffe-point-of-view, which suites more the purpose of the building i suppose, heh.
    terrific contextual and modernly interpreted project, must have been a fun one to research and design.

  • octopoos

    oh, and i love how the glu-lams look like a herd of outward-encircled giraffes looking over the savanna. very fun.

  • deniz

    the metal suspending elements – whatever they are, hope not the lighting – seem to collide with the heads of giraffes?!

  • I love the way it looks, and I love the thought that has been put into making the giraffes feel like they have more space. The bowing walls are such a good idea.