Monday, November 28, 2011

Animal Architecture: London Zoo's Penguin Pool

Just as the residents of many listed council estates in England are probably unaware they're living in architecturally significant buildings, so the penguins of London Zoo's Grade I listed, Berthold Lubetkin-designed Penguin Pool were probably also oblivious to the importance of their modernist habitation.

Though the penguins haven't lived in Lubetkin's creation since 2004, it's doubtful they've given it much thought or missed it since. Especially as earlier this year they moved into the new Penguin Beach, four times the size (making it England's biggest penguin pool) of their last home and a lot more pleasant all round. The penguins certainly seem a lot happier.

The Lubetkin Penguin Pool (built in 1934) is a key modernist structure, being one of the first made using the then-new material reinforced concrete. But Lubetkin, like many architects, whether designing for penguins or people, seems completely oblivious to what it means to actually live in one of their structures. His Penguin Pool seems a sterile and soulless environment for both penguins and visitors, having to look down on the penguins over a wall. Penguin Beach, by contrast, has underwater viewing areas where visitors can watch penguins swim at eye level, or platforms for watching them from above.

After the penguins moved out of Lubetkin's pool, it did retain a water feature. This now seems to have gone and the pool looks a bit dilapidated. Sad but typical of how we look after our listed buildings. I'm not a huge lover of nature (or zoos) but do like a lot of the older buildings at London Zoo, many of which were designed by prominent architects. The zoo holds two Grade I and eight Grade II listed structures. If the animals could speak, I'm sure they wouldn't share my architectural enthusiasms: not many of them look very happy.

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