PCL transformed an enclosure originally built for elephants in 1959 into a living place for Giant Pandas visiting the Calgary Zoo.  

The Giant Panda exhibit recreates key aspects of these animals’ natural habitat, such as sounds, smells and humidity. To provide ample natural light with a better spectrum for indoor plant growth, we installed two fluorine-based plastic polymer skylights. This technology was relatively new to North America and required great coordination between the project team and the German manufacturer, including an in-person review of the skylight components and installation methods.  

A moat protects the pandas, as required by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, but building it meant working around not only zoo visitors but also gas, electrical and water utilities put in during many renovations over the zoo’s lifespan. To add to the complexity, we discovered as-built drawings of these services were lost in a flood in 2013.  

A typical solution would be to build the shoring wall with structural shotcrete and tie-back anchors spaced at 1.2 meters vertically and 1.5 horizontally. However, several contractors expressed concern about the instability of the soil and the cost of building during the winter months. We proposed to build the shoring wall using a structural concrete secant shoring system and a 100-millimeter-thick shotcrete finish installed on the face of the secant piles. This halved the schedule from 40 days to 20 and required only a single shoring contractor and no additional heating and hoarding. 

The International Living Future Institute honored the pandas’ temporary home with Petal Certification as part of its Living Building Challenge (LBC). The LBC is a green-building certification program that visualizes the ideal for the built environment. Construction companies hoping to pass the institute’s rigorous tests must follow a strict set of imperatives that focus on designing for the future and creating buildings that are regenerative spaces: self-sufficient, healthy and beautiful. 

Our single greatest effort was to create visual and atmospheric theming while ensuring that products on-site met the LBC’s stringent requirements. We locally sourced shingles, for example, made from recycled rubber that eliminates the environmental impact of mining and shipping real stone. In all areas, we showed that it is possible to divert nearly all construction and demolition waste from landfills. 

Only wood that is reclaimed or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is acceptable on an LBC project. FSC-certified roof joists were not available in the market, so we engineered and built the joists from scratch using FSC lumber. 

The Living Building Challenge aims to be a catalyst for change and strives to challenge the construction industry. We pushed ourselves, partners and manufacturers to advance the use of more local and environmentally friendly products, writing advocacy letters to the relevant authorities to include a non-PVC conduit in the next update of the building code, as PVC is a red-list banned material. We also wrote to various manufacturers calling for them to register their products to create a transparent list of chemical components and provide life-cycle assessments. We were able to  meet the strict LBC procurement challenges while helping move the industry to source more environmentally friendly products, well above industry standards.  

The conservation movement goes hand in hand with the environmental movement, and we are honored and proud to have helped build a sustainable home for the Pandas during their stay in Calgary. Though the famous guests have since departed to a new facility, the space will be repurposed to house a different species of large mammal. 

Constructed by