At the end of 2018, Copenhagen Zoo will welcome its newest residents: a pair of giant pandas on loan from the Chinese government. The zoo commissioned architect Bjarke Ingels to design their home, and in March, his firm BIG presented its design – a 2,500 square metre habitat reminiscent of the yin-yang symbol.
Finding a suitable enclosure for the animals meant understanding their complex behaviour, says Steffen Stræde, Director of the Copenhagen Zoo. He explains how the circular configuration not only ensures optimum mating conditions, but also makes the humans feel like the visitors in the pandas’ environment.
“It’s part of our DNA to let everyone from zookeepers to gardeners and vets influence the design and function of the facilities to secure the well-being of our animals. The team understood our approach and successfully integrated it into their design process to create a world-class home for these beloved pandas,” Stræde stated.
Male and female pandas should be kept apart except during their brief mating season, which means that the enclosure must be separated into two areas. This necessary closeness suggested the yin and yang formation that could keep the two sections of the enclosure adjacent, but separate.
“It is funny, what with the masculine and the feminine belonging together and yet being separate. It was just obvious that the enclosure should form the yin-yang duality,” Ingels stated.
The curved edges of the enclosure not only divide the male and female pandas, but also create the necessary lines of separation between the viewers and the animals. Yet the fluidity of these dividing lines creates a sense of closeness – walkways rise and fall within the enclosure, and an adjoining café at a lower level allows even children to come eye to eye with the pandas.
For the pandas, the upper part of the habitat includes a rocky slope lined with native Nordic plants, a dense bamboo forest, and even a “mist forest”.
The enclosure has been designed for flexibility and seasonal change, and combines exciting contemporary design with a sensitivity to the animals that will make it their home.
Fundraising commitments of between 125 and 150 million kroner have been secured for the construction of BIG’s panda enclosure, which is expected to begin in November and open in late 2018. M