With their cutest new inhabitants comfortably settled in, the Copenhagen Zoo and Bjarke Ingels Group have shared new pictures of the recently completed yin and yang-shaped Panda House, a new home for giant pandas Mao Sun and Xing Er. Designed to mimic the pandas’ natural habitat, the BIG-designed enclosure blurs the line between indoors and out so that visitors feel immersed in the habitat without encroaching on the pandas’ sense of safety. Created in collaboration with Schønherr Landscape Architects and consulting engineers from MOE, Panda House includes a variety of naturalistic landscapes informed by workshops with panda experts, zoologists and veterinarians.

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Introduced to Copenhagen Zoo from Chengdu, China earlier this spring, the pair of giant pandas can freely explore a state-of-the-art, 4,950-square-meter panda facility that includes both a dense, mist forest and a light, green bamboo forest. The designers have worked closely with Chinese specialists since 2010 to create the ideal conditions for mating, one of the major challenges for pandas in captivity. Per the solitary nature of giant pandas, the enclosure has been divided into two similar yet separate areas — organized in the shape of the yin and yang symbol — so that the pandas can stay apart outside of the mating season.

Related: Sasaki designs Chengdu Panda Reserve to protect the giant panda

round zoo enclosure with rocks, trees and bamboo
kids sitting beside glass wall looking at giant panda

To make the separation hardly noticeable by both pandas and guests, the architects elevated the enclosure and tucked the stables and other facilities partly underground to integrate them into the landscape. The lifted sections of earth at both ends of the yin and yang symbol give visitors direct views into the pandas’ habitat as they walk around the perimeter of the round enclosure. Visitors can also observe the pandas — and the elephants in the adjacent enclosure — from the ground-floor, French-Asian bistro PanPan, which is topped with an upper floor landscaped with native Nordic plants. 

family eating lunch at table beside glass wall with view of giant panda exhibit at a zoo
people looking through glass walls at giant panda

“We studied the social and behavioral needs of the giant pandas: apart from mating season, pandas are loners by nature — male and female pandas need to be separated from each other such that they can’t smell, hear or have physical contact,” said David Zahle, partner at BIG. “Taking the literal interpretation of the yin and yang symbol, we divided the circular site to create separate yet harmonious homes for the male and female pandas, which can be flexibly merged during dating season. Overall, the Panda House is designed to feel like humans are the visitors in the pandas’ home, rather than pandas being the exotic guests from faraway lands.”


Photography by Rasmus Hjortshoj via BIG