One of Britain’s first modernist buildings, this circular animal house was highly imaginative in design and construction.

Lubetkin design

As our zoological research during the 19th and 20th centuries shed new light on the needs and lifestyles of animals, its buildings gradually became more scientifically and technically ambitious, too. Developed in 1932-33, the Gorilla House was purpose-built for our  male and female gorilla, Mok and Moina. It was the first building at the Zoo to be commissioned to the modernist architecture practice Tecton Group. Designed by architect Berthold Lubetkin, it was also the group’s first significant building.

Round house at London Zoo
© ZSL
Gorilla, John Daniel II in 1925 at the Round House
© ZSL

Early British modernist architecture

Modernist architecture is known for its interest in functional design and structural innovation, and both can be seen in the Gorilla House. The brief for the building was to provide the gorillas with access to an open-air enclosure in summer and a climate-controlled indoor enclosure in winter, while allowing visitors to view the animals all year round.

To achieve this, Lubetkin designed a circular, partly revolving structure, which was realised with the help of leading engineer Ove Arup. In winter, a retractable screen could be rotated to convert the gorilla’s outdoor summer enclosure into a sheltered public viewing space. Sliding glass windows could be raised in the dividing wall. This allowed the indoor enclosure to be air-conditioned to provide a warm, moist, rainforest-style habitat, and also kept human germs away from the gorillas. Painted white on the outside, the building was originally yellow and blue on the inside to give a sense of openness.

Following the Gorilla House, Lubetkin and the Tecton Group was hired to design other Zoo buildings, including the equally bold Penguin Pool and the North Gate Kiosk. The Round House (as the Gorilla House later became known) was subsequently adapted and used as accommodation for a range of different animals, including elephants, Kodiak bears, chimpanzees and koalas, with the revolving screen now fixed in place.

A portrait of the gorilla 'Meng'. London Zoo, June 1939.
© ZSL
Gorilla sitting on a pole while holding a rope with both hands.
© ZSL

The Round House today

Although the Round House is no longer considered appropriate for larger animals, in more recent times it has been employed to house smaller creatures such as aye ayes and fruit bats.

Today, both Lubetkin’s Round House and Penguin Pool are Grade I-listed buildings, preserved for their architectural and historical significance. Although they would no longer be considered suitable for their intended inhabitants according to modern scientific standards, they remain as symbols of a radically modern and experimental phase in Zoo 

Journey through our history

  • Guy the silverback gorilla at London Zoo
    Guy the gorilla, Jumbo the elephant and quaggas

    Famous Animals of London Zoo

    The iconic animals in our history which brought people closer to nature and inspired generations of conservationists.

  • 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.

  • Snowdon Aviary construction
    Now reimagined as Monkey Valley

    Snowdon Aviary

    The Snowdon Aviary made history as Britain’s first walk-through aviary, designed to enclose as much open space as possible, stretching up to 24m tall.

  • Jumbo at riding steps, probably March 1882. Jumbo was London Zoo's first African elephant.
    Uncovering Jumbo's life

    Jumbo the elephant

    The remarkable life story of Jumbo the elephant - the animal superstar who is said to have inspired the movie Dumbo.

  • Penguins at Lubetkin penguin pool at London Zoo designed by Berthold Lubetkin
    Pioneering Berthold Lubetkin design

    Lubetkin penguin pool

    Our Lubetkin Penguin pool at London Zoo is iconic. The sweeping spiral ramps kick-started a new era for British architecture, and inspired an enduring love of penguins in the British public.

  • Famous hippo Obaysch
    The first hippo in Europe since Roman times

    Obaysch the hippo

    Obaysch took the country by storm when he arrived in 1850, and visitor numbers doubled that year.tor numbers doubled

  • A view of London Zoo by James Hakewill from 1835 and featuring the Raven's Cage and the Llama House. In the background a bear is being fed by visitors. The Raven's Cage has since been relocated.
    A monument of our history

    Ravens' Cage

    Designed by London Zoo’s original architect, Decimus Burton, this ornate ironwork aviary dates back to our earliest days.

  • History of the Zoo