Very few of us will ever have the joy of living in a house designed by famed architect Norman Foster. But when the Copenhagen’s Zoo biggest residents required a new residence they got a custom designed abode from this world renowned architect. The design is a dramatic departure from the clinical, hi-tech solutions typically seen from Foster’s firm. In contrast, The Elephant House is a low tech, naturally textured solution that, remarkably, feels more human scaled than anything else that they have come up with in years.

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While it may not be as showy as some of the firm’s more outlandish designs, the Elephant House does stand out for its approach. Housing animals who are capable of destroying anything in their path takes some unique design solutions, and Foster has managed to deliver quite beautifully.

The brief was all about ensuring the safety, wellbeing, and enjoyment of the elephants. From the outside, the visitor sees two asymmetric glass domes which enclose the elephant spaces. Inside, the elephant enclosures are set deep underground to ensure a more controlled thermal environment for the paquiderms. The buried structures are made from concrete, and the sand that previously existed on the site has been reused to create the paddocks.

To ensure that the elephants remain active throughout the day, mud holes, pools of water, and shading devices were set around the grounds. The glazing was patterned after a variety of leaves, all randomly rotated to provide light similar to the patterns found in a forest. There is also plenty of technology in the finished product. For instance, the glazed domes can be opened to provide natural ventilation to the space, and a heat recovery system has also been installed.

Thanks to the clever design, the elephants will be able to sleep together at night for the first time, in the main herd enclosure.

+ Elephant House, Copenhagen Zoo @ Foster and Partners
+ Ahead of the herd @ The Independent
+ Foster + Partners