7 Visionary Zoo Designs

by | 01. Oct 2014

Givskud 'Zootopia'. Image courtesy BIG

Givskud ‘Zootopia’. Image courtesy BIG

The public display of captive animal has always been a debatable issue. How do you balance the ethical obligation to create as accurate a portrayal of their natural habitats as possible with the neccesary need to satisfy the visitor’s fundamental demand for entertainment – while ideally creating spectacular structures epitomizing man’s position in the divine hiaerchy?

When designing a zoo, architects need to balance these converging interests. In some cases, the weighing is clear. With renowned Russian Modernist Berthold Lubetkin 1934 design of London Zoo’s iconic Penguin Pool, for instance, the scales are tipped significantly in favor of the design. Infatuated with the endless possibilities of reinforced concrete – a relatively new building material at the time – Lubetkin created a sculptural, eliptical structure with ultra-thin sliding ramps for the penguins. The design – although providing a highly stylized, fairly inhospitable environment for its inhabitants – was hugely popular and helped a great deal in popularizing the ideas of Functionalism in England.

ZOO-London Zoo Penguin Pool.jpgLondon Zoo Penguin Pool. Photo by heena_mistry/CC

Since the 70s, the focus on environmental protection has increased and zoos have undergone something of a metamorphosis. Generally less attention is paid to aestetics and more to optimized living conditions. However, Foster’s elegant glass covered enclosure of Copenhagen Zoo’s Elephant House and the soaring diamond-patterned dome Berlin Zoo’s Hippopotamus House show that these two concerns are not mutually exclusive.

The most recent, self-attested attempt to bring the zoo into the 21st century comes, not unsurprisingly, from ever-progressive Bjarke Ingels Group, who recently unveiled their plans for a reshaping of Givskud Animal Park in Denmark into a so-called ‘Zootopia’ – a 1,200,000 m2 park wherein animals roam free and visitors float around in futuristic capsules. Whether this utopian scheme turns out to be a viable alternative to the traditional zoo remains to be seen, but it shows that the portrayal of a natural habitat is potentially possible without compromising with the entertainment value.

Who knows, perhaps a rhino can teach us something about how we live – or how we could live in the future?
/ Bjarke Ingels, BIG

Below you’ll find additional, equally notable examples of zoological design.

Elephant House by Norman Foster & Partners in Copenhagen, Denmark Photo © Richard Davies

Elephant House
Norman Foster & Partners
Copenhagen, Denmark


Giraffe House
LAM architects
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Korkeasaari Lookout Tower by Ville Hara in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory

Korkeasaari Lookout Tower
Ville Hara
Helsinki, Finland

ZOO-Berlin Zoo-hippopotamus.jpg

Hippopotamus House
Schlaich Bergermann & Partner
Berlin, Germany

Adelaide zoo.jpg

Adelaide Zoo
Adelaide, Australia


Givskud ‘Zootopia’
Give, Denmark

South korea zoo.jpg

Zoological Island
JDS Architects
Dochodo, South Korea