Set within a royal park, adjacent to the Fredriksberg Palace, Copenhagen Zoo is the largest cultural institution in Denmark. Among the Zoo’s most popular inhabitants are the Indian elephants. This new Elephant House seeks to provide these magnificent animals with a stimulating environment, including easily accessible spaces from which to enjoy them, and to restore the visual relationship between the zoo and the park.
Research into elephants’ social patterns, together with a desire to bring a sense of openness to a building type traditionally characterised as closed, provided powerful starting points. The tendency for bull elephants in the wild to roam away from the herd suggested a plan organised around two separate enclosures. These are dug into the site, both to minimise the building’s impact in the landscape and to optimise its passive thermal performance. Covered with glazed domes, the enclosures maintain a strong visual connection with the sky and changing patterns of daylight.
The elephants can congregate here, or in the paddocks outside. Wide 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. Barriers between the animals and visitors are discreet, and the paddock walls are concealed in a long pool of water so that the visitor encounters the elephants as another ‘surprise’ in the landscape of the park.
Significantly, in terms of the elephants’ well-being, the building sets new zoological standards. The main enclosure will enable the elephants to sleep together, as they would in the wild, while the floors are heated to keep them dry and thus maintain the health of the elephants’ feet. Other aspects of the design result from research into the elephants’ natural habitat. The paddocks recreate a section of dry riverbed
as found at the edge of the rainforest – a favourite haunt of Asian elephants. With mud holes, pools of water and shading objects, it will be a place where the animals can play and interact freely.
Description by architects