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Penguin Pool, London Zoo
Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London NW1, UK
Penguin Pool, London Zoo
associated engineer
Sir Ove Arup
Felix Samuely
date  1935
UK era  Modern  |  category  Aviary/Enclosure  |  reference  TQ280833
photo  Jane Joyce
The world's oldest scientific zoo is home to arguably the world's most interesting penguin enclosure, sadly uninhabited these days. However, its dramatic spiralling concrete ramps and oval shape continue to make a strong impression on visitors.
In 1934, Newcastle-born engineer Ove Arup joined the engineering company JL Kier. As their expert in concrete technology, he formed associations with Modern Movement architects. Principal among these was the Tecton group headed by Russian-born architect Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990).
Lubetkin studied under Auguste Perret in Paris but moved to London in 1932. Other members of Tecton came from the Architectural Association in London. The Penguin Pool was one of the group's first commissions.
The complex is constructed in reinforced concrete. It consists of a long pool, a deep tank for diving, and nesting boxes for the birds, all set within a large ellipse and surrounded by a chest-height wall at viewer level.
The outstanding feature is the pair of wafer-thin spiralling interlocking ramps that soar over the large pool seemingly unsupported. The whole, including the ramps, were intended to allow the penguins to behave naturally and were the result of careful study. It is an innovative solution to what was then a very unusual subject for engineering design. The structural analysis of the ramps was carried out by Felix Samuely.
In 2004, the current generation of penguins were rehoused in a new enclosure. However, their original Modern Movement home remains in place, now used as a fountain in summer.
London Zoo has a distinguished design heritage at their Regent's Park site. There are many listed structures in the gardens, including work by Decimus Burton dating from the 1827-8 when the complex was first laid out. Lubetkin's Penguin Pool is Grade I listed.
Architect: Berthold Lubetkin, Tecton
Contractor: JL Kier
Research: ND
"Ove Arup Masterbuilder of 20th Century" by Peter Jones
Yale University Press, 2006
"Historic Concrete: Background to Appraisal"
edited by James Sutherland, Dawn Humm and Mike Chrimes
Thomas Telford Publishing, London, 2001

Penguin Pool, London Zoo