Having checked off LEGO-inspired edifices, trash-incinerating artificial ski slopes, and courtyard-skyscrapers off his in-development list, what could Bjarke Ingels, starry-eyed architect par excellence and bone fide Danish national treasure, possibly dream up next?

How about a zoo?

The latest aggressively — and wonderfully — bonkers commission taken on by Ingels’ eponymous firm, BIG, is, in fact, a zoological garden. Well, a “Zootopia” to be exact. And it’s pure Ingels: thoughtful, daring, fun, and so crazy that it just might work.

The client in question is Denmark’s famed Givskud Zoo, a zoo (more of a safari park, really) already renowned for offering visitors an unorthodox zoo-going experience. Since opening in the late 1960s as Løveparken (Lion Park), visitors have had the option of driving thir own cars through a massive lion enclosure (the zoo’s resident pride is the largest in Northern Europe). Rolled-up windows and sunroofs are compulsory for the obvious reasons.

BIG’s proposed redesign further turns the standard zoo concept inside out — a naturalistic vision, apparently liberated from the typical barriers such as partitions and cages, in which humans, obscured whenever possible, are surrounded by freely roaming wild beasts and not vice versa.

Explains BIG:

Architects’ greatest and most important task is to design man-made ecosystems — to ensure that our cities and buildings suit the way we want to live. We must make sure that our cities offer a generous framework for different people — from different backgrounds, economy, gender, culture, education and age — so they can live together in harmony while taking into account individual needs as well as the common good. Nowhere is this challenge more acrimonious than in a zoo. It is our dream — with Givskud — to create the best possible and freest possible environment for the animals’ lives and relationships with each other and visitors.

Central to the Zootopia design is a gently swooping circular plaza that provides access points to a trio of the zoo's three distinct habitats: Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Ringed by an elevated walkway and resembling a giant handled serving platter (or perhaps an emptied-out, lopsided reservoir), visitors loop around the interior of the plaza by foot or bike. Within the saucer-shaped plaza, visitors enter each of the three habitats, spanning a total of 300 acres, via tunnel, ramp, or bridge. From there, they continue their safari journeys by foot (a 2.5 mile-long hiking bike connects all three continents), bike (Africa), boat (Asia), or gondola (the Americas).

As Designboom explains “the complex’s building elements are integrated with the landscape, to conceal their appearance to the animals while distinctly fitting to the individual species.”

Given that the particulars of the design are still scant at this stage and likely to be tweaked moving forward, it’s a bit unclear exactly how far the barriers between animals and ticket-holding guests will be broken down. But judging from the renderings and from BIG’s own words, it would seem that they’re pretty darn broken down; in many cases, there's no separation. As you can see from the renderings, Zootopia would employ mirrored spheres to help guests remain hidden from sight from the animals while exploring each of the habitats.

We are pleased to embark on an exciting journey of discovery with the Givskud staff and population of animals — and hope that we could both enhance the quality of life for the animals as well as the keepers and guests — but indeed also to discover ideas and opportunities that we will be able to transfer back into the urban jungle. Who knows perhaps a rhino can teach us something about how we live — or could live in the future?

The first phase of the project is slated to reach completion in 2019 — just in time to celebrate Givskud Zoo’s 50th anniversary. And while there will obviously be safety measures in place that will allow visitors to get up close and personal with the zoo's resident critters without getting too close, tourists who would rather mingle with LEGO than lions will delight in the fact that the zoo is located just a quick drive away from the town of Billund, the plastic toy construction brick's ancestral home.

Zoo aficionados: any thoughts on this next-level safari design?

Via [Designboom], [Copenhagen Post]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

BIG redesign of Denmark's most famous zoo is totally wild
Bjarke Ingels Group's proposed Givskud Zoo makeover makes the 'best possible and freest possible environment for the animals’ lives' a top priority.