bjarke ingels group's yin and yang-shaped panda house welcomes its first residents

bjarke ingels group's yin and yang-shaped panda house welcomes its first residents

in early 2017, bjarke ingels group (BIG) revealed plans for a yin and yang-shaped structure that would house two giant pandas at copenhagen zoo. now, a few months after the pandas arrived in denmark, photographer rasmus hjortshøj has documented the two animals making themselves at home. the new dwelling for mao sun and xing er — natives of chengdu, china — seeks to replicate the creature’s natural habitat, while creating a peaceful living environment for one of the world’s rarest mammals.

all images by rasmus hjortshøj



designed by BIG, schønherr landscape architects, and consulting engineers from MOE, the project is the result of a series of workshops with panda experts, zoologists, and veterinarians. serving as an anchor point for copenhagen zoo, the panda house has been designed to provide the pandas with the optimal mating conditions — one of the major challenges facing the vulnerable species.



the duo’s circular home is divided into two separate areas which appear as a yin and yang symbol. ‘architecture is like portraiture,’ says bjarke ingels. ‘to design a home for someone is like capturing their essence, their character and their personality in built form. in the case of the two great pandas, their unique solitary nature requires two similar but separate habitats — one for mao sun and one for xing er. the habitat is formed like a giant yin and yang symbol, with two halves: the male and the female sides complete each other to form a single circular whole.’



the enclosure is elevated to form stables and other facilities below ground, while simultaneously hiding and integrating them into the landscape. by lifting the earth at both ends of the yin and yang symbol, an undulating landscape forms to allow direct views into the pandas’ habitat. meanwhile, a variety of plants, rocks, climbing trees, and tree trunks throughout the habitat allows the pandas to retreat, rest, eat, or find shade while still being visible to the public. various water elements, such as basins, streams and waterfalls serve both to enrich and cool the residents during the summer.



‘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,’ explains said david zahle, partner, 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.’



as the pandas must be able to find both shade and sun, as well as water and foliage, the design team created two environments: a dense, mist forest; and a light green bamboo forest. as a result, mao sun and xing er can explore both landscapes, according to season, temperature, and preference. the structure’s ground floor contains a restaurant that overlooks both the pandas and the neighboring elephants, while the upper story, lined with native nordic plants, has a path venturing into the dense bamboo forest. all interiors have been designed to have the landscape at eye-level, ensuring an immersive experience. see designboom’s previous coverage of the project here.



project info:


name: panda house
size: 4,950 sqm / 53,281 sqf
location: frederiksberg, copenhagen, denmark
collaborators: schønherr, MOE
client: copenhagen zoo
photography: rasmus hjortshøj


BIG – bjarke ingels group
partners-in-charge: bjarke ingels, david zahle
project manager: ole elkjær-larsen
project leaders: nanna gyldholm møller, kamilla heskje, tommy bjørnstrup
team: alberto menegazzo, alex ritivoi, carlos soria, christian lopez, claus rytter bruun de neergaard, dina brændstrup, eskild schack pedersen, fabiana cortolezzis, federica longoini, frederik skou jensen, gabrielé ubareviciute, gökce günbulut, hanne halvorsen, høgni laksáfoss, jiajie wang, jinseok jang, joanna plizga, lone fenger albrechtsen, luca senise, maja czesnik, margarita nutfulina, maria stolarikova, martino hutz, matthieu brasebin, pawel bussold, richard howis, seongil choo, sofia sofianou, stefan plugar, tobias hjortdal , tore banke, victor bejenaru, xiaoyi gao

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