Where elephants bathe: LafargeHolcim’s concrete for the landmark Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park at Zurich Zoo

16 June 2015

Since June 2014, the new Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park has been a spectacular addition to Zurich Zoo’s attractions. During its construction, LafargeHolcim Switzerland worked closely with the customer to meet the very specific requirements of concrete for elephants.


Zurich Zoo has been a pioneer in the design and layout of animal parks for the last two decades, enabling its visitors to experience the animals' lives from up close. The zoo is also planning something similar for its new Asian elephant park.

The project has several objectives:

  • Maximum flexibility for the animals and for the zookeepers working with them
  • A better visitor experience
  • Inclusion of a management zone with space for technical equipment

The end result was the following:

  • A 58,125 square foot interior enclosure
  • An outside enclosure of a similar size with several bathing pools for the elephants
  • A two-story, Thai-themed lodge for visitors

Architectural artistry

Two aspects of the project were crucial: first, visitors should not be able to see one another, and second, the animals should feel and act as if they were in their natural environment.

  • Approximately 2,000 cubic meters of concrete were used to craft the wall of rock that forms the enclosure’s outer perimeter. Twelve to 18 cubic meters of concrete with a particle size of up to 45 millimeters were added to the shell in stages, giving the rock a unique and remarkably real finish. The craftsmen then had no more than two hours to chip away the concrete skin to expose the embedded rocks.
  • The roof, which is delicate in appearance but weighs approximately 1,200 metric tons (the equivalent of 185 bull elephants), covers the interior enclosure, stables and visitors' lodge. LafargeHolcim Switzerland’s concrete plant underwent countless winter trials before producing the self-compacting concrete used for this distinctive roof. "For each cubic meter of concrete, an approximately 20 kilogram metal bar was built into the structure, so you can appreciate the extent to which the construction can withstand the effects of wind and snowfall," LafargeHolcim Sales Manager Jörg Hürlimann says.
  • The management zone and superstructure required another 5,000 cubic meters of concrete, as much as is normally used to build 10 apartment buildings.

The Kaeng Krachan elephant park is a landmark project for Zurich Zoo. Construction costs of CHF 41 million put the project in the big league, not only architecturally but also financially. As for members of the public, they can expect to experience the rare sight of elephants swimming within a habitat specially designed for both their enjoyment and, more important, their comfort.

elephant park zoo
elephant park zoo enclosure