Penguin Pool of London / Berthold Lubetkin

© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

In 1934, Berthold Lubetkin and the Tecton Group completed the Penguin Pool in the world’s oldest zoo: the London Zoo. The complex also features a unique collection of buildings that represent nearly two centuries of architectural history. The pool has now been empty for 15 years because penguins contracted bumblefoot infection from walking on the concrete.

Penguin Pool of London Technical Information

Architecture can be a potent weapon, a committed driving force on the side of enlightenment, aiming however indirectly at the transformation of our present make-believe society, where images outstrip reality and rewards outpace achievement.

– Berthold Lubetkin

Penguin Pool of London by Berthold Lubetkin Photographs
Penguin Pool of London / Berthold Lubetkin

© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Penguin Pool of London / Berthold Lubetkin

© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Penguin Pool of London / Berthold Lubetkin

© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Penguin Pool of London / Berthold Lubetkin

© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Penguin Pool of London / Berthold Lubetkin

© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Text by the Architects

In 1934, London Zoo (the Regent’s Park zoo in London) unveiled its famous spiral-ramped “Penguin Pool,” designed by Tecton, an influential architectural firm led by Russian emigre Berthold Lubetkin.

With the help of engineers Ove Arup and Felix Samuely, architect  Berthold Lubetkin (Tecton) was able to exhibit the zoo’s penguins in “…an exquisite example of modernist architecture”. The result is a pair of intertwining ramps, cantilevered above the elliptical pool.

Like the Mappin Terraces, it fully explores the sculptural possibilities of concrete. Unfortunately, the pool proved to be unsuitable to the penguins, and in 2004 it ceased to be their home. The penguin colony was temporarily relocated to one of the zoo’s duck ponds and took such a strong liking to their new habitat that it was decided that they would remain there.

Sasha Lubetkin told local paper the Camden New Journal that the pool should be destroyed as it is now useless.

It was designed as a showcase and playground of captive penguins, and I can’t see that it would be suited to anything else, perhaps it’s time to blow it to smithereens.

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.

– Sasha Lubetkin

Penguin Pool of London Plans
Floor Plan and Section of the Penguin Pool of London / Berthold Lubetkin

Floor Plan and Section | © Berthold Lubetkin

Penguin Pool of London Gallery
About Berthold Lubetkin

Berthold Romanovich Lubetkin (1901 – 1990) was a Soviet émigré architect who pioneered modernist design in Britain in the 1930s. Born in Georgia in 1901, he studied in Berlin and Paris, before moving to London in 1931. The following year he founded the famous Tecton practice with the Architectural Association graduates Anthony Chitty, Lindsay Drake, Michael Dugdale, Valentine Harding, Godfrey Samuel, and Francis Skinner.

Amongst Tecton’s first commissions, led by Lubetkin, were the iconic penguin pool and gorilla house for London Zoo – both unique early examples of Modernism in the UK. Lubetkin and Tecton’s buildings went on to become some of the most iconic of the period, and include private houses in Sydenham, one of the UK’s only Modernist terraces in Plumstead, south London, Finsbury Health Centre, and the Highpoint apartments in Highgate. The latter is described by the architectural historian Alan Powers as “perhaps the single most celebrated Modernist building of the 1930s in London.”

Cite this article: "Penguin Pool in the London Zoo / Berthold Lubetkin" in ArchEyes, July 16, 2020, https://archeyes.com/penguin-pool-london-berthold-lubetkin/.