Essential Architecture-  London

Penguin Basin 


Berthold Lubetkin  engineer Arup Associates


Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY








zoo enclosure 
Lubetkin seems to have seen this building as an opportunity to creatively explore the possibilities of a new building material available in 1934 - reinforced concrete. Having studied the habits of penguins he created a penguin enclosure and pool that provides an interesting environment for the penguins, a multiplicity of viewing angles for the spectator and a Modernist building of true clarity and style.

After setting up the architectural group 'Tecton' in 1932 the penguin pool was one of his first commissions, from the Director of London Zoo. The overall elliptical shape is referenced in the spiraling intertwined ramps that connect the different levels; these sloping cambered ramps give a dynamic feel to the building.

The large elliptical blue pool provides the birds with a large swimming area and also gives a contrast to the white concrete used throughout. There is a partially shaded area to provide the birds with protection from the direct sun, and the gently curved walls are designed to echo the penguin's cries.

This building cleverly combines practical considerations, such as a shaded area for the penguins and gently sloping access to the pool, with a powerful aesthetic statement of form and line.

The penguin pool is a Grade 1 listed building in the UK Government scheme for protecting important buildings.

John Perrin 2002

How to visit

London Zoo is open every day except Christmas Day. The nearest underground station is Camden Town.

For more information call +44 20 7722 3333, or the London Zoo web site has comprehensive visitor information at .

The Penguin Pool at London Zoo was officially listed as a building of special architectural interest in 1970. Sir Ove Arup provided structural engineering design working with Lubetkin and Tecton to restore it in 1987.

The interlocking design consists of two spiralling ramps. They are constructed from concrete and are cantilevered. With no intermediate support they can bear the evenly-distributed weight of 24 people.

Sir Ove Arup provided the structural engineering design consisting of ramps, steps, pond, diving tank and nesting boxes. The environment was designed to enable the penguins to demonstrate their natural traits and provide them with activities of interest to them and the spectators.