Bjarke Ingels’ Panda House at the Copenhagen Zoo

Place: Copenhagen, Country: Denmark
Copenhagen Zoo
Architectural Design: BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group (https://big.dk/)

Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels 03

Bjarke Ingels’ Panda House at the Copenhagen Zoo

In December 2019, the Zoo of Copenhagen opened a much-awaited new attraction, called Panda House.
Designed by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group in collaboration with Schonherr Landscape Architects, the 2,450-square-meter / 26,370-square-foot structure is the European home of two giant pandas, a male named Mao Sun and a female named Xing Er, on loan from the Chinese government to the Danish institution for 15 years (giant pandas can live up to 30 years in captivity).

To create an artificial habitat for two giant pandas is not easy. Pandas are reclusive animals that, apart from a brief yearly mating period of two/three days, live a solitary life and don’t like the presence of other pandas nearby. Furthermore, they appreciate different natural habitats, from sunny meadows to shady forests, depending on season and temperature.

To cope with such a complex task, BIG designed a circular garden, whose shape echoes that of the Yin and Yang symbol, divided into two halves, one for Mao Sun and the other for Xing Er. Each “half” of the garden consists of a combination of undulating grassland, green bamboo groves, and misty forest patches. A bamboo fence separates the two areas, which are merged only during the dating season.
The bears’ living area is enclosed by a two-level structure that accommodates various visitor facilities and a French-Asian restaurant on the ground floor and a ring-shaped panoramic terrace on the upper floor, both levels providing expansive views on the pandas’ enclosure.

Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels plan

The Panda House at the Copenhagen Zoo, site plan; the shape of the enclosure echoes that of the Yin-Yang symbol which, in ancient Chinese philosophy represents dualism and complementarity. Image BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.

BIG’s panda house causes a two-fold reaction in me. On the one hand, their aim to create a diverse living space tailored to the animals’ well-being has been successful and admittedly quite remarkable. On the other hand, though I am aware that most pandas should live in captivity due to the destruction of their natural habitat, I can’t avoid a bit of discomfort thinking about people eating an 80-euro Sashi beef steak while peeking a couple of captive wild animals in the background, sorry.

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View of the panda enclosure from the ring-shaped terrace on the upper floor. Photo © Rasmus Hjortshøj.

Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels infographic

Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels diagram

Project diagrams. Images BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group.

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Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels PanPan Bistro restaurant

View of the panda enclosure from the visitor area on the ground floor, and the PanPan Bistro restaurant. Photos © Rasmus Hjortshøj.

Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels ground floor plan

Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels section

Ground floor plan, and longitudinal section. Images BIG- Bjarke Ingels Group.

Panda House Copenhagen Zoo BIG Bjarke Ingels bamboo fence

Bamboo was used both for the enclosure fencing and to create formwork for the Panda House concrete structures. Photos © Rasmus Hjortshøj.

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Photo © Rasmus Hjortshøj, courtesy of DAC – Danish Architecture Center.

Cover image: aerial view of the Panda House. Photo © Frank Ronsholt / Zoo of Copenhagen.


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