Elephant House 11.06.08

Written by 

words Ana Vukadin

An elephant house designed by Foster & Partners was unveiled yesterday at Copenhagen Zoo. The architecture giant’s first building for animals, the house apparently boasts the latest zoological standards in terms of the elephants’ well-being. “The brief was the result of a joint collaboration between the zoo and our firm,” explains Spencer de Grey, Senior Executive and Head of Design of Foster + Partners. “They obviously knew a lot about the behaviour of elephants and what suits them, and we could provide the technical expertise to translate those needs into a building. We were absolutely thrilled at such a novel opportunity!”

image Richard Davies

The house is located on the main axis of the zoo, and borders the Royal Park. Set on a slope, it covers 8,800sq m and is a combination of open and closed spaces, complete with a swimming pool for the elephants. Two enclosures made of terracotta-painted concrete provide separate stables: one for cow elephants and their calves, and one for bull elephants. Glass domes printed with leaf patterns cap each enclosure. “This way the quality of the light is dappled, and as close as possible to feeling outdoors when you are in fact indoors,” says de Grey. Windows in the domes provide ventilation and a fine mist sprays from the walls for humidity – important for the skin of elephants – and internal heating ensures a temperature of 16-22 degrees celsius.

There are sand floors throughout the structure. “I think something that is really important here is that we tried to keep the colour palette very much that of India and Thailand, the natural habitat of these elephants – so a very warm, sand colour. We avoided any corners or hard lines – there are no sharp corners for the elephants to bump into!” says de Grey. A ramp runs in between the two stables and a terraced area designed by Danish landscape architect Stig L Andersson offers panoramic views of the park.

Perhaps one of the most striking characteristics of this house is the 60m long swimming pool, the first ever in elephant enclosures. “Apparently elephants have a very strong inclination for water. At the opening, they were swimming away and wallowing in the pool! It was a delight to see!”

images Nigel Young - Foster + Partners

image Richard Davies

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