Penguin Problems

London's Penguin Pool should be “blown to smithereens,” says architect’s daughter

London Zoo's Penguin Pool, an international symbol of modernist architecture, should be destroyed, claims the architect’s daughter. (Courtesy Flickr)

The London Zoo’s Penguin Pool, an international symbol of modernist architecture, should be destroyed, claims the architect’s daughter.

The pool, designed by architect Berthold Lubetkin and structural engineer Ove Arup in 1934, is a world-renowned monument to modernism for its ground-breaking use of curvilinear, self-supporting concrete slabs. The crisp, white, interlocking ramps hover over an elliptical pool, transforming the penguin sanctuary into a dramatic, entertaining, and aesthetically pleasing display for visitors.

The pool is a world-renowned monument to modernism for its ground-breaking use of curvilinear, self-supporting concrete slabs (Courtesy Berthold Lubetkin)

While the design is undoubtedly eye-catching, the penguins left the pool in 2004 after the birds contracted a dangerous bacterial infection called “bumblefoot,” as the enclosure’s concrete ramps formed scrapes and abrasions on the penguin’s feet.

Lubetkin had worked with biologist Julian Huxley on the installment to ensure that the design suited the Antarctic penguins’ needs, but his efforts were rendered useless when the zoo swapped the species out for South American Humboldt penguins that prefer to burrow and could not do so given the structure and layout of the sleek, modernist structure.

When the zoo announced that it had no future plans to utilize the now derelict space, Lubetkin’s daughter, Sasha, told local paper the Camden New Journal that the pool should be demolished to preserve her father’s integrity.

“It was designed as a showcase and playground of captive penguins, and I can’t see that it would be suited to anything else,” she told local reporters. “Perhaps it’s time to blow it to smithereens.”

Since the penguins moved to a more accommodating enclosure some 15 years ago, the original Penguin Pool has been withering in a run-down section of the zoo (Courtesy Flickr)

The penguins now reside on Penguin Beach, the largest penguin pool on the European continent, fully equipped with a rocky, sandy beach, cozy nesting areas, a 4,000-square-foot diving pool, and a penguin nursery where baby chicks can learn how to swim. Since the penguins moved to the more accommodating enclosure some 15 years ago, the original Penguin Pool has been withering in a run-down section of the zoo.

While the fate of the crumbling Penguin Pool is unknown, other modernist Lubetkin buildings still stand in north London, including the Finsbury Health Centre and the Highpoint housing blocks.

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