The Uncertain Future of Lubetkin's Penguin Pool

 John Hill
9. January 2019
The Penguin Pool in 2014 (Photo: FeinFinch/Wikimedia Commons)
Empty of its penguins since 2004, the London Zoo's Grade I-listed Penguin Pool, designed by Berthold Lubetkin and engineered by Ove Arup in the early 1930s, is hearing calls for its demolition — from none other than Lubetkin's daughter.
Sasha Lubetkin, quoted in the Camden New Journal, said that "perhaps it's time to blow it to smithereens," since the penguins now live in a larger enclosure and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has no plans for the modernist building's future at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. The removal of the penguins in 2004 was due to "bumblefoot," an infection to the birds' feet from the concrete surfaces that made Lubetkin's design so daring and innovative when it was completed in 1934.
The Penguin Pool ca. 1978 (Photo: gillfoto/Wikimedia Commons)
Lubetkin's daugher further explained to the newspaper: "When my father designed the penguin pool, I understand he consulted [Sir] Julian Huxley [famous biologist] about the environment best suited to penguins. Of course, like all areas of human endeavor, 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is constantly changing and evolving, so in all probability what was the latest thinking in the 1930s has long been superseded."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 new "Penguin Beach" enclosure, pictured below, is more natural in its design, reflecting changes in both architecture and zoology in the last 80 years. A zoo spokesperson quoted at Camden New Journal describes it as such: "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 liters of water – alongside a penguin nursery where chicks can learn how to swim."
Penguin Beach, the new home for penguins at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (Photo: ZSL)
Although the same zoo spokesperson said, "we have no current plans to do anything with the building," a sign mounted to the side of Lubetkin's Penguin Pool (visible in Google Street View) asserts that "ZSL is proud to restore this important cultural structure as a water feature ... but for people rather than penguins." So there is some hope for preservation over "blowing it to smithereens."

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