The RHINO PAGODE at Zoo Berlin will create a swampy grassland for armored rhinos, pustel pigs and tapirs on an area of around 14,000 m², which will be modelled on the animals’ natural habitat. Between tall grasses and idyllic watercourses, the popular grey heavyweights will treat themselves to a mud bath from spring 2023 and, together with pustel pigs and tapirs, become the new visitor magnet at the Capital Zoo.
In line with the World Zoo Conservation Strategy, the authentic representation of a habitat and how it can be experienced are primary goals at the zoo. The new facility, designed by dan pearlman experiential architecture, presents visitors with a modern and transparent animal enclosure based on a systematic order in which the animals can be experienced in the context of their natural ecosystems and complementary species, following the biodiversity approach.
The design also follows the principles of modern zoo planning, which does not present the animals in a context-free space, but in authentic enclosures designed to be close to the biotope, which, with the help of intuitive visitor guidance, enables impressive animal encounters in unique close encounter zones and allows visitors to immerse themselves deeply in the world of the animals. With the help of materiality, color, atmosphere and, above all, near-natural, site-appropriate planting, exciting experiential spaces are created indoors and outdoors, which allow important connections between humans and animals to be understood in a vivid way. Spatial boundaries between landscape and architecture as well as between visitor and animal are visually dissolved. “The natural habitat” as a defining element for the overall facility flows through the built structures.
The aim of the architectural design is to pick up on the surrounding landscape and carefully develop the volume of the building in favor of an integrative external effect. The typologically clear design convinces with its compactness, clarity and reduction of means. The building is divided into two parts: the show house with integrated technical and adjoining economic areas and the temple tower with integrated entrance and exhibition area. The temple tower picks up on the guiding principle of India with its formative, cultural elements, the materiality and the play of light and shadow. Its design is based on the tradition of the zoo and its historical buildings in a contemporary interpretation.
While largely respecting the historic tree population, the outdoor areas are enlarged and upgraded. Furthermore, the new walk-in warm house will provide the animals with more varied space indoors and at the same time offer visitors the opportunity to observe the animals in attractive surroundings all year round. Access to the area is to be barrier-free. Various elements such as underwater viewing and a waterfall will contribute to further enhancing the attractiveness for visitors.
After the laying of the foundation stone for the RHINO PAGODE in late summer 2021, a lot has happened on the construction site. The future near-natural animal enclosures, entrances and visitor paths are taking more and more shape. Since the beginning of 2022, the 25 m high tower of the RHINO PAGODE has stood at the center of the complex as a “monument to species conservation”. The tower consists of 68 stacked elements made of reddish concrete, each weighing up to 10 tones. A pattern specially developed for the tower was inlaid as matrices in the precast concrete elements. The architects attached great importance to early sampling to ensure that all details fit together perfectly and that the construction sequences and design goals were achieved precisely. The spire of the RHINO PAGODE is made of gold-yellow painted metal. It sparkles in the sun and is visible far beyond the boundaries of the zoo in Berlin’s City West.
Inside the tower, visitors will have the opportunity to make a donation at a wishing well for species conservation projects to protect the armored rhinoceros in Assam in north-east India. Although the populations of the once almost extinct animals have recovered in the meantime, armored rhinos are still considered endangered. The situation is also dramatic for many other animal species around the world. The World Conservation Union IUCN currently lists almost 37,500 animal and plant species as threatened, more than ever before. The eye-catching tower of the RHINO PAGODE has a high recognition value as a unique selling point of the zoo and sets an urban accent with external impact. It will draw attention to the need to protect biodiversity far beyond the boundaries of the zoo.
The view behind the golden dome of the RHINO PAGODE tower is also architecturally exciting: a huge foil cushion roof covers the interior. It consists of four layers of plastic film (comparable to a cushion within a cushion). Air flows through these layers permanently. The layers are fixed in so-called clamping profiles, which in turn sit on eight steel girders. The spanned area is approx. 1100 square metres, the longest cushion almost 40 m long. The roof weighs about 37 t, of which only about 2 t is the actual foil. To avoid high solar radiation and heat gain, the outermost foil was printed with a reflective honeycomb pattern. The foil roof also offers other advantages, such as low maintenance due to self-cleaning in case of rain and good light transmission including UV light. Since natural light is an essential prerequisite for species-appropriate animal husbandry, the structural design of the interior enclosure is primarily determined by the issue of light and light transmission. The spatial steel structure with ETFE foils spans the playpens for the animals as well as the visitors’ area and partly the service area. The roof as well as the glass façades allow for optimal daytime and weather exposure and reinforce the feeling of being out in nature. This creates a harmonious and homogeneous overall picture that embeds the building in the surrounding nature. The approx. 6 m high black olive trees in the visitor area as well as the other plants in the world of experience also benefit from the natural light.
The overall natural experience of the RHINO PAGODE is complemented by a picturesque design and elaboration of the artificial rocks in the enclosures and water basins of the rhinos and tapirs as well as by many exciting glass insights into the animals’ bathing pools. The bathing pools and mud hollows serve as resting and lying places for the animals and for personal hygiene. All in all, both indoors and outdoors, the animals have a variety of behavioural and environmental enrichment activities at their disposal that promote their daily well-being (environmental & behavioural enrichment).
The boundaries between visitors and animals through water and dry ditches are also designed to be close to nature and allow an open view of the animals and landscape. Great importance is attached to the protection of the existing trees and vegetation during the redesign.
Financing for the nature-oriented facility was secured even before the Corona pandemic, so the construction project will be implemented as planned. A total of about 20 million euros has been budgeted for the construction. Like the Panda Garden, the RHINO PAGODE at Zoo Berlin is being planned by the Berlin architecture firm dan pearlman Erlebnisarchitektur headed by CEO and Creative Director Kieran Stanley.