Next summer, Zoo Berlin will finally welcome a new panda couple. A large habitat is currently under construction on the site of the former deer park that will offer these rare animals a modern home to meet all their needs. Since Chancellor Angela Merkel’s official confirmation of the project in autumn 2015, plans with Berlin architecture firm dan pearlman have been in full swing. The architects have plenty of experience in the field, as they also designed the Panda World that opened at South Korea’s zoo and theme park Everland Resort in spring of this year.

The visitor’s pavilion – inspired by the historic Chinese pavilion from 1898 – will be visible from the Elephant Gate entrance to the zoo and offer visitors their first glimpse into the female panda’s outdoor enclosure. As giant pandas tend to be solitary animals, they will be kept apart at Zoo Berlin for all but a few days of the year. The two large-scale outdoor enclosures will be separated by a functional and unobtrusive building, which will house a covered visitor’s plaza as well as the pandas’ indoor area and the zookeepers’ facilities. The existing plans for the panda habitat combine European modernity with Far-Eastern tradition. The minimalist panda house is given an East-Asian touch with its tiled façade and Chinese-style gates, railings and pavilion.

The landscaping of the habitat is modelled on the home of the giant panda – the province of Sichuan, which lies to the east of the Tibetan Plateau. The bamboo plants, rock formations and small waterways that are typical of the region will also characterise the animals’ zoo habitat. The visitor experience will be enhanced by a decentralised exhibition featuring interesting information about the life of pandas.

In all their projects, the architects place great emphasis on the animals’ well-being – and the sensitive giant pandas are no exception. Plexiglas skylights, for example, provide the indoor enclosures with natural light and are UV-B and UV-A permeable. Based on the principle of behavioural enrichment, the naturally designed outdoor enclosures will feature climbing apparatus, sandpits, dugouts, swings and slides to encourage the pandas to engage in a variety of activities.

The project’s tight schedule poses a particular challenge. Only 14 months are available for the entire planning and construction process, as the 5,480 m² habitat needs to be ready to welcome its inhabitants in summer 2017. The total cost of this panda paradise amounts to around €9 million.

Zoo and Tierpark Director Dr Andreas Knieriem is satisfied with the proposed plans and the progress being made: “All departments at the zoo have contributed to the design of the habitat and we are extremely proud to be bringing giant pandas back to Germany after five years. These animals are very special to us and they will be moving into Europe’s most modern panda habitat.”

“It is a real honour to plan a habitat for such rare animals and accompany the project from the initial idea up to arrival of the pandas,” says Kieran Stanley, CEO of dan pearlman Experience Architecture.

The endangered giant panda is regarded as an ambassador for species conservation. There are only around 2,000 of these animals left in the world, and they are very rarely found in zoos outside of China.

Construction on the panda habitat commenced in early November. First, the building site needs to be set up. This involves putting up fencing, setting up a construction road, felling trees and demolishing two deer stables. We will be posting regular progress updates in the form of a construction diary via our website’s panda blog:

These are the next stages:

  • On 17 November, the 33 m construction crane will be delivered and assembled. This crane has a 43 m range and will be used to build the visitor’s plaza and indoor panda housing. Work on the foundations will commence in the next few weeks.

  • In January, the panda house will be erected on-site as a solid construction. The roof will be made from prefabricated units of reinforced concrete.

  • A press conference on the signing of the contract in the presence of the Chinese Ambassador is expected to take place this year.

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