If there’s one landmark at the Zoo that sums up our history of architectural innovation, it’s the Lubetkin Penguin Pool, completed in 1934.

Berthold Lubetkin design

This striking enclosure was designed by Georgian-born Berthold Lubetkin, part of the Tecton Group of architects. 

The Penguin Pool was Tecton’s second commission from ZSL, after the warmly received Gorilla House. Built around an elliptical pool, it features two interlaced spiral ramps made from reinforced concrete – a revolutionary material at the time. To realise his vision, Lubetkin worked with concrete specialist Ove Arup, who would go on to be knighted as one of the leading structural engineers of his era. 

Penguin facts

Penguin Pool modernist architecture 

Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool was both technically impressive and visually dramatic, designed to clearly showcase the penguin’s behaviour to visitors. It included open viewing windows rather than cages, built-in nesting boxes for the penguins, a glass-fronted diving tank and a revolving fountain. 

The Penguin Pool was quickly hailed as a classic of modernist architecture, which favoured innovative materials and technologies, functional forms and clean lines. It helped to make the names of Lubetkin and the Tecton Group, as well as helping establish Arup’s reputation for innovation in casting reinforced concrete. 

Some penguins are gay. Get over it. 

Over the following decades, countless visitors enjoyed watching the penguins without any bars in the way, including the young royal Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, who visited the Penguin Pool in summer 1939. 

As scientific knowledge of penguin care grew, however, the pool’s shortcomings became more obvious. Concrete wasn’t the healthiest material for penguin’s feet, and the penguins were moved out to more spacious accommodation.

Penguins at Lubetkin penguin pool at London Zoo designed by Berthold Lubetkin
Zookeeper feeding penguins at Lubetkin Penguin Pool

Harry Styles at London Zoo

Today, the Penguin Pool is Grade I listed by English Heritage for its architectural interest, and carefully maintained in order to preserve its original design. 

It’s also available to book as one of the Zoo’s filming locations. The pool featured in the video for Harry Styles’ chart-topping hit “As It Was” in spring 2022, with the singer popping in to film the scene before the Zoo opened to the public.

But if it’s penguins rather than pop stars you’re looking for, these days you’ll need to head over to Penguin Beach, opened in 2011 and modeled on our Humboldt penguins’ real South American habitat, with a sandy floor and a deeper pool for diving.

Journey through our history

  • Black and white photo of giraffes at Decimus Burton's Giraffe House
    England's first giraffes

    Giraffe house history

    When giraffes arrived at London Zoo in 1836, they caused a public sensation. Our giraffes were the first to be seen by the public in England, and made Londoners instantly form a connection with the natural world.

  • A portrait of the gorilla 'Meng'. London Zoo, June 1939.
    One of Britain’s first modernist buildings

    Round house

    Designed for gorillas by Berthold Lubetkin, the building was home to our first gorillas Mok and Moina.

  • Outside Tiny Giants building
    Taking inspiration from nature

    Sustainability at Tiny Giants

    Opened by Queen Elizabeth I and Prince Philip, we built our Tiny Giants building to be as sustainable as possible.

  • Zookeeper with a toucan bird
    Home to more than 50 different birds

    Blackburn Pavilion

    Blackburn Pavilion originally housed crocodiles, and is one of the only Victorian animal houses at the Zoo to remain in use today.

  • Winnie the bear at London Zoo which inspired Winnie the Pooh
    The real story behind Winnie the Pooh

    Winnie the Pooh origins

    Winnie was one of our most famous residents, a black bear taken in when her mother was killed by a hunter and she has an enduring influence on pop culture today.

  • Historic photo of flamingos at Mappin Terraces at London Zoo
    Built over 100 years ago

    Mappin Terraces and Pavilion

    At the time of their creation in 1913, they represented an innovative step to provide more naturalistic settings for animals at the Zoo. Over the years, the terraces have been home to goats, bears, penguins, ibex and snow leopards

  • Designed by Decimus Burton in 1828 for llamas, in 1831 a clock was added to the top of the building, and the llamas were replaced with camels.
    Decimus Burton design

    Clock Tower

    The oldest original building at the Zoo, and it still has closing-time bell on the outside of the building.

  • The London Zoo aquarium photographed in July 1981
    World's first public aquarium

    The Aquarium

    We were home to the world’s first public aquarium. We popularised the name “Aquarium” and pioneered the first environments to provide the correct living conditions for salt-water animals.

  • Our history
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