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Berthold Lubetkin’s poetic Penguin Pool may be demolished at London Zoo

United Kingdom Architecture News - Jan 10, 2019 - 05:01   3310 views

Berthold Lubetkin’s poetic Penguin Pool may be demolished at London Zoo

Berthold Lubetkin's poetic and modernist Penguin Pool, built in 1934, faces demolition at London Zoo, as the architect's daughter says it may be time to "blow it to smithereens" after it fell into disuse, according to an article published in Evening Standard

The classic-modernist Penguin Pool was designed by Berthold Lubetkin and the Tecton Group and completed in 1934 at London Zoo. The Penguin Pool is conceived as an icon of British modernist architecture since it was one of the first completed buildings to propose a new direction for British architecture. The pool was one of the first buildings demonstrating the expressive and structural potential of reinforced concrete.

Berthold Lubetkin’s poetic Penguin Pool may be demolished at London Zoo

Image courtesy of Avanti Architects

But the pool has been disused for 15 years since the Zoo workers withdrew the birds from the pool after the concrete cased the penguins have a bacterial infection known as “bumblefoot”.

The architect's daughter Sasha Lubetkin told the Camden New Journal that "it was designed as a showcase and playground of captive penguins, and I can’t see that it would be suited to anything else,” adding in frustration: "Perhaps it’s time to blow it to smithereens."

Sasha also added: "when my father designed the penguin pool, I understand he consulted [Sir] Julian Huxley [famous biologist] about the environment best suited to penguins." 

Berthold Lubetkin’s poetic Penguin Pool may be demolished at London Zoo

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

"Of course, like all areas of human endeavour, knowledge about animals and their habits is constantly changing and evolving, so in all probability what was the latest thinking in the 1930s has long been superseded."

The innovative design of the pool was realized in a close collaboration between Lubetkin and the structural engineer Ove Arup. The team designed a structure that provides a shelter for animals, an aquatic sculpture, and an impressive feat of engineering.

Berthold Lubetkin’s poetic Penguin Pool may be demolished at London Zoo

Avanti Architects has involved the renovation process of the Penguin Pool. Image courtesy of Avanti Architects

The Penguin Pool complex is comprised of a long elliptical pool with a deep glass fronted diving tank and nesting boxes around the perimeter. The design was developed by following the basic design principle: 'behaviourism'; "this was a popular philosophy of psychology in the 1930s that claimed that all animal behaviours were a result of external environments." 

The design followed to both mimic the penguin’s natural habitat and provide a stimulating environment while also creating a theatrical stage on which they would display themselves to visitors. The design is built from a pair of impressively thin interlocking spiral ramps that extend from hidden columns and appear to hover over the pool entirely unsupported. 

Berthold Lubetkin’s poetic Penguin Pool may be demolished at London Zoo

Image courtesy of Avanti Architects

In addition to the narrow curving ramps which tested the penguins’ balance, the enclosure included a variety of flooring materials such as exposed concrete, slate steps, and plastic rubber made of cork chippings, rubber and cement.

After withdrew the birds from the pool, the birds now live in a bigger place, known as Penguin Beach, which opened in 2011.

Berthold Lubetkin’s poetic Penguin Pool may be demolished at London Zoo

Image courtesy of Avanti Architects

"The penguins haven’t lived in the Grade I listed Lubetkin Penguin Pool since 2004 — we have no current plans to do anything with the building," according to a zoo spokeswoman. 

"The penguins now live on Penguin Beach, Europe’s largest penguin pool, which has a rocky, sandy beach, nesting areas and a 1,200sqm pool holding 450,000 litres of water — alongside a penguin nursery where chicks can learn how to swim."

Top image © Flickr/Iqbal Aalam 

> via Evening Standard