Approval granted! Construction work recommences on Elephant House

The historic Elephant House at Hellabrunn Zoo will feature a new modern design by the end of 2015. The next stages of the renovation project have been approved.

The Elephant House, built in 1914 in the Byzantine style by the Munich architect Emanuel von Seidl, is a prominent feature of Hellabrunn Zoo. In recent years, the 100-year-old building has begun to deteriorate due to exposure to ammonia fumes from elephant urine. This culminated with the partial collapse of the Rabitz ceiling in autumn 2010. The tensile strength of the steel and the concrete strength were no longer in compliance with building regulations. The house was closed to the public and a temporary building was created for the elephants and giraffes. On Whitsun 2013, the giraffes were able to move into the new purpose-built Giraffe House.


After the animals were rehoused, various safety measures were implemented at the Elephant House, these include a structural inspection and preliminary planning for the new design. One particular challenge, the renovation of the dome of the listed building, was accomplished to the satisfaction to all parties involved: animals, zookeepers, visitors and the Historic Preservation Trust. The management of the zoo eventually decided that the new dome to be erected will feature a steel structure. This ensures significantly longer durability as the steel will not be impaired by animal fumes. The City of Munich has endorsed the renovation of the Elephant House and provided Hellabrunn Zoo with €15 million in financial support.


The decision not to restore the Elephant House to its original architectural style from 1914 could allow the Department of Conservation of Monuments and Historic Buildings to revoke the listed status of the building. This status will be reviewed once the old dome has been demolished.


The official demolition permit for the dome has now been granted. Requirements for the demolition of the dome include the preparation of extensive documentation and submission of a certified structural analysis. The demolition of the dome will be conducted by a loosening blasting method and is scheduled for the end of August 2014.


As such a demolition must be well prepared, the relevant preparations have already begun: in order to provide full access to the site, access roads will be opened and some visitor paths may need to be closed, as required. These measures must be in place for the roof of the Elephant House to be removed.


The entire infrastructure will be relocated from the old Elephant House to a temporary house erected on the grounds of the former Giraffe enclosure: to ensure continuous zookeeping operations for the elephants, electric lines will be rerouted, and the boiler in the old house disassembled and reinstalled in the temporary habitat. This will ensure the elephant's temporary home and the tortoise house are well maintained throughout the renovation period expected to last until the end of 2015.


Since 14 January 2014, the Department of Conservation of Monuments and Historic Buildings of the Local Building Commission (LBK) has been reviewing the planning application for conversion and refurbishment of the remaining sections of Elephant House (excluding the dome).


"We are delighted that construction work on the Elephant House has finally been given the go ahead," says interim zoo director, Beatrix Koehler. "Our bull elephant Ludwig is now three years old and needs his own space as he is now reaching puberty. We are under enormous time pressure and for zookeeping and financial reasons we cannot afford any delay."