The Panda House

BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group as Architects

The home for giant pandas Mao Sun and Xing Er in Copenhagen Zoo resembles the panda’s natural habitat and creates a peaceful living environment for one of the world’s rarest mammals. The two giant pandas have settled in at Copenhagen Zoo since arriving from Chengdu, China. Anchoring one of the oldest zoos in Europe, the 2,450m2 Panda House creates a harmonious indoor-outdoor garden for the two pandas to roam freely and have the ideal conditions to mate—one of the major challenges facing the vulnerable species. The Panda House is formed by its residents’ solitary nature and its immediate surroundings, including the central square, the Nordic area, the monkey house and the elephant house. Mao Sun and Xing Er’s circular home is divided into two separate areas which appear as a yin and yang symbol, creating the freest and most naturalistic possible environment for the giant pandas’ lives and relationship with each other.


Both pandas and guests hardly notice the separation; the enclosure is elevated to form stables and other facilities below ground, which simultaneously hides and integrates 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. The visitor experience happens along the perimeter of the round enclosure and in the paths that slope downward for insight into the work of the zoo staff, vets and gardeners. The Panda House consists of two levels: a ground floor with the French-Asian bistro PanPan for visitors to dine while observing both the pandas and the elephants, and an upper floor with native Nordic plants and a path venturing into the dense bamboo forest. All interiors are designed to have the lush landscape at eye-level, creating an immersive experience with wildlife and nature at both sides. The vegetation and landscape at the Panda House closely mimic the pandas’ natural habitat with patches of bamboo scattered throughout. The pandas must be able to find both shade and sun, as well as water and foliage. By creating two forests – a dense, mist forest and a light green bamboo forest, Mao Sun and Xing Er have the opportunity and flexibility to explore both landscapes, according to season, temperature and preference.

The Panda House

iGuzzini as Lighting
The zoo in Copenhagen is one of the oldest in Europe and has been home to a pair of pandas gifted by China since 2019, following a visit by the queen of Denmark to China in 2014.

In order to accommodate Mao Sun and Xing Er, the pair of giant pandas, the zoo entrusted the architectural firm, BIG and the landscape architect's firm, Schønherr with the job of creating surroundings where the animals would feel at home.

Bjarke Ingels started precisely from the idea of a house because, as he says, to build a house for someone you need to understand their spirit, personality and transform all that into a construction. For the two pandas and their solitary nature, BIG imagined two similar areas, close to one another but separate, forming a large yin and yang symbol: the male and female; shadow and light. This symbol is now positioned in the middle of the park and has become its centre as it has all-round access.

The Panda House is the result of a series of encounters with panda experts, zoologists and vets, because the main aim was to recreate an environment that was very similar to the animals' natural habitat where they could feel free to roam about and reproduce, something that is particularly delicate and difficult for these plantigrades.

The area covers around 2,500 m2 and has vegetation and spaces where the animals can seek refuge while, all around their space, visitors can watch them by walking on two ramps. The lighting was designed to be discreet and as non-invasive as possible, not only from an illumination point of view, but also in the size of the equipment. Lines of Underscore InOut lights are arranged along the balustrades of the ramps where visitors walk, while the vegetation area is highlighted according to islands of light around special poles where Miniwoody projectors have been installed. The overall lighting in the area comes from the Woody projectors.
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