One of the biggest attractions at the Copenhagen Zoo is the Elephant House and its group of Indian elephants. The original structure dated back to 1914 and was in serious need of an upgrade for both the elephants and the visitors, so Foster and Partners was called upon to complete a new facility for the zoo in 2008. The amazing facility restores the visual relationship between the zoo and the park, but more importantly it provides a more stimulating environment for the elephants. The new space is five times larger than the old enclosure and it incorporates natural daylighting and solar passive design.
Keeping the elephants happy was a key element in the design of the new house, and detailed research into the social patterns of elephants helped inform a plan to create two enclosures for elephants to hang out in, socialize with each other, play, or stay cool. The main enclosure is covered in a lightweight, translucent material, which gives the elephants a stronger connection with the outdoors while providing protection from the elements.
The naturally daylight interior is also a welcome change from the dark enclosures usually seen at zoos. Visitors can walk around the enclosure and look in through the roof to see the elephants from above without unsightly barriers between them. A pattern of leaves on the dome reduces the harshness of the sun and leaves the interior dappled with sunlight, creating an experience similar to being under a grove of trees. Parts of the dome can be raised to serve as openings that let hot air escape out the top.
Both the enclosures are dug into the side of the landscape, which optimizes their solar-thermal performance — the earth’s thermal mass absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. The new house, constructed of concrete and Ipe wood, also sets new standards for elephants in captivity — the main enclosure allows all the elephants to sleep together as they would in the outdoors, and heated floors help keep them dry and maintain the health of their feet. Landscaping and watering holes were designed to reflect the elephants’ natural habitat, allowing the them to play and interact more freely.
Photo credits: Foster + Partners, Nigel Young and Richard Davies