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12.03.2012 - Ausgabe: 1/2012

A piece of Africa in Dresden

By Isabel Bartsch (Dipl.-Ing.), Rehwaldt Landschaftsarchitekten


The first compounds of the zoo in Dresden, Germany, were designed by Peter Joseph Lenné and built in 1861. Based on its current, inner-city location, directly next to the "Großen Garten" urban park, it is not possible for the zoo to expand. The neighbouring park does however, provide a unique chance to make use of its impressive scenery as a visual expansion of the zoo. The objective of the design was to include the "Großen Garten" as a visual extension of the zoo in order to achieve optical breadth.

The urban location of the new giraffe house was of exceptional importance. It is located at the northern limit of the zoo bordering the park. Between the giraffe house and the existing terrarium, the outdoor run forms a new enclosure which invokes wideness and space while presenting the animals against the background of the "Großen Garten" and the savannah architecture of the giraffe house.

With a planned relocation of the reptile house, it will be possible to build a further enclosure, creating a collection of compounds with African topics bounded by the park scenery. The operational area of this new building can be cleverly accessed through the lion compound.

The new giraffe compound follows the original design of Peter Lenné, while taking the trees of the neighbouring park as background scenery and visual extension. The outdoor enclosure is intended to be an interpretation of an African landscape whereby the visitor areas and animal compound form one unit. Clear divisions, such as fences, were consciously avoided.

Zoo experience

In order to make the new giraffe house fit into its new environment it was divided into two buildings, making it appear smaller. Due to the location of the building, some areas, such as the operative areas and first enclosure (zebras, wading birds) are out of sight of visitors.
The savannah has been taken as architectural topic of the house. Vertical wooden lathes in the same colours as a giraffe (dark, medium and light brown) are intended to bring to mind a savannah heat haze. The treetops of the neighbouring park, visible above the house, combine with the vertical wooden structure to form brushes and treetops and the house appears to float in natural surroundings.

The outdoor enclosure has the appearance of an African landscape with this principle including the vegetation and accessories. Fencing in the traditional sense was abandoned, making use of a 1.2m deep dry moat to keep the animals in. Visitors can approach the animals through paths between the bushes. Existing paths have been extended onto headlands jutting into the enclosure. These allow visitors a good view and giving them the impression of being surrounded by the animals. The banks around the waterhole offer a very special view framed by stones and grasses while the enclosure itself is a dry grass area with a waterhole and an island retreat for waterfowl and waders allowing them to breed in peace. A 5½ m high tree is used to feed the giraffes at a "natural" height.

The areas of enclosure between the headlands have been designed along the themes of waterhole, bush or outlook. In this way, visitors have the chance of observing the animals in one particular environment or from a different height aspect. They can stalk them in the savannah, prowling from one outlook to the next amidst thorny plants with silver-coloured leaves.
The innermost enclosures next to the buildings are used to temporarily remove the animals from view, dividing them with wooden-clad fences.
The crossroads between the new lion savannah and the giraffe enclosure has been turned into an "African square". Footprints of African animals have been cast into the ground and as on safari, visitors can follow the trail and identify the animals which left their mark.
The "Africone" elements are based on the amorphous shapes of tropical tree trunks and are made of squared timber of durable larch timber which are glued into blocks and then also screwed together. The objects created in this way serve as stools, climbing aids, raised viewpoints, benches or for discreet infotainment involving African topics. The colouring is oriented towards the overall concept. The outlook tree placed at the edge of the enclosure is the model of an old tree trunk which can be climbed to approach the giraffe eye-to-eye.
Following removal of the old gamekeeper quarters, the enclosure boundary wall between the giraffes and the goat-like gorals needed to be rebuilt. The existing rock wall theme was taken up and implemented in a new way.

The old zoo entrance leading to the park "Großen Garten" was reactivated as a "window on the zoo". A wooden path guides hikers over the Kaitz stream to the enclosure fence where they can catch a glimpse of the views enjoyed by visitors to the zoo.

Play tower and outlook post

Architectural use of timber is illustrated in the open spaces - the 4½ m high play tower is clad with the same material as the building façade, but in a more intense colour. The shape of this special object brings to mind a trunk of the baobab tree, standing alone in the savannah, and like the baobab it is also hollow. A steel ladder inside the structure leads to an outlook post where different ropes wait to be climbed. The relatively intense colour underlines the playful character of the tower and is an expression of the design objective, above all for the period when the enclosure is newly opened and vegetation has not yet fully developed, giving it an "unfinished" appearance.


The playful natural experience to learn about the homeland of giraffes and zebras is a topic which tangents the pedagogic tasks of the zoo. Here again, it is timber which creates the bridge between the African original and the European version. The figurative, sculptural use of the material creates very concrete references without concealing the modern context. This is the basic concept for the «Africones», which give the outdoor enclosure a very special character. The shape of the objects is derived from individually grown tree trunks while the objects themselves, made of bonded and screw-fastened larch timber, have a variety of uses and functions.

Tree seating and climbing trunks

The largest of these elements is a 5½ m long and 1½ m high tree seat which was partially prefabricated, transported to the building site and "finished" on site. A special climbing tree was also included in order to allow even the smallest visitors to have a good view. The climbing tree is made of wooden dowels inserted into the bonded trunk and allowing the tree to be easily climbed. The information elements for the enclosure were made using the same construction concept and allowing the world of the zebras and giraffes to be experienced in an unusual way. To achieve this, the top sections of the wooden objects are mounted on pivots allowing the pictures and text mounted on durable, weather resistant film inside, to be seen.

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