DE
12.11.15

New dome for Hellabrunn Zoo's Elephant House

Erected in 1914, the renovation of the historic Elephant House is progressing smoothly. The architectural landmark of the Munich zoo is expected to reopen with a magnificent new look in summer 2016.

Copyright: Hellabrunn Zoo

Copyright: Hellabrunn Zoo

Copyright: Hellabrunn Zoo

Copyright: Hellabrunn Zoo

As winter approaches, the dome of the Elephant House will be temporarily covered to allow construction work to continue on the interior of the building during the cold months. At present, the supporting structure for the main dome is currently being delivered and mounted. The Elephant House was built by the Munich architect Emanuel von Seidl. It features a neo-Byzantine style and is a landmark of Hellabrunn Zoo. However the building, now more than 100 years old, began to deteriorate largely due to ammonia-containing vapours from elephant urine, which led to a partial collapse of the Rabitz ceiling in autumn 2010. The effect of the ammonia in the elephant urine vapours began to diminish the tensile strength of the steel and the concrete strength to the extent that there were concerns about safety compliance. However neither the animals nor visitors were harmed. The Elephant House was subsequently closed to the public and temporary enclosures were provided for the elephants and giraffes, separately.

This was followed by a safety assessment of the Elephant House, including a structural inspection and preliminary planning for the new design concept. One particular challenge for the renovation was ensuring that the listed building, including its dome, satisfies the demands of the various stakeholders: animals, keepers, visitors and the historic buildings conservation office. After much deliberation, the zoo, in consultation with its supervisory board, decided to erect a new dome with a steel structure. In September 2014, the old dome was demolished by a team of demolition experts using a loosening blasting method.

"At the moment a frame is being erected on which the dome will be mounted within the next six weeks," says zoo director Rasem Baban. "The parts for the new dome are made of steel, since the reinforced concrete used for the previous dome no longer meets today's requirements." Christine Strobl, mayor and chairman of the zoo adds: "The four outer domes will be installed before Christmas. The renovation of the historic Elephant House is progressing according to plan, thanks to an € 18 million grant provided by the city. The grand reopening will take place in summer 2016."

Still awaiting restoration are the five historic outer roof crowns. Measuring between 1.20 to 1.50 m high, the 'pennant' completes the symmetry of the main dome and the four outer domes. The roof crowns, each weighing 30 kg, are made of sheet copper. In 1914, they were originally coated in gold leaf for the opening of the Elephant House. The roof crowns have suffered greatly by exposure to weather and war and will be restored to their former glory by a restorer. The work on the five roof crowns will take about two months to complete.

"We would like to have the elegant, golden roof crowns adorn the top of the domes again when renovation is complete," says zoo director Rasem Baban. "However, we are still in search of five donors to help us cover the restoration costs, which amount to € 9,000 per roof crown. We hope we can find friends of Hellabrunn Zoo, or elephant or architecture fans who are willing to support us financially in this endeavour."