atelier cole constructs gabion walls to create bear sanctuary in vietnam jungle

atelier cole constructs gabion walls to create bear sanctuary in vietnam jungle

atelier cole has delivered a number of innovative and diverse projects for wildlife organizations worldwide. therefore, the team is no strangers to delivering work in complex and hard to access areas. the vietnam bear sanctuary project called for an affordable, easily replicable design that could be adapted to fit the contours of the mountain where it stands and respond to the site constraints. as a result, the architects have fenced the structure with gabion walled filled with stones found on the site.

a simple palette of rock and steel



‘we wanted to reduce the concrete usage and we started developing wall ideas,’ explains david cole. ‘we knew there were some parameters, it was necessary to keep the steel mesh and concrete finish inside the bear dens, as it was easy to clean down preventing infection and contamination. we simply took the mesh material and used it to create gabion walls with high thermal mass. the inside could be rendered and the outside could be untreated to give a natural sandy colour found around the site. the mesh sheet sizes which were available led to a modular design. this essentially led to the foundation of the building blocks for the whole project. we utilized a steel frame structure to support a green roof and built the bear houses with internal courtyards to give ample space for fruit trees providing a food source for the bears.’

building for bears in the jungle



all services are hidden within the gabions and the steel is left exposed galvanized or finished with grey zinc oxide paint. the intention is that over time the plants will flourish in the courtyard and the green roof will grow down over the fascia of the roof allowing the overall form to blend in with the forest.

exterior walls


gabions encircle courtyard of banana trees


sliding doors allow for keepers and vehicular access


interior of bear dens


bear keeper relaxes in the shade


one of the younger bears climbs den walls






axonometric scheme


floor plan


project info:


name: vietnam bear sanctuary

architects: atelier cole

location: vietnam


designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: maria erman | designboom

  • “filled with stones found on the site” …that clearly helps with affordability. Still looks like a ‘life sentence’ for the bears.


    Jimmy Xi says:
  • Bear dens look remarkably like prison cells which are not the first thing to come to mind when one reads about sanctuaries in a jungle . . .

    A Brocklehurst says:

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