London, UK

Berthold Lubetkin with Ove Arup (1934)

Berthold Lubetkin’s seminal Penguin Pool at the London Zoo was an early demonstration of Modernism as a new direction for architecture, and a triumphal showcase of the creative and expressive possibilities of concrete.

The pool was built in 1934 by Lubetkin and his firm Tecton, in collaboration with engineer Ove Arup. Lubetkin was a Jewish, Georgian-born architect who participated in the early debates of Soviet Constructivist architecture, and associated with masters of Modernism like Le Corbusier and Jean Ginsberg in Paris throughout the 1920s. Arup was a talented Newcastle-born civil engineer of Danish heritage, whose name would be associated with some of the greatest engineering and architecture projects of the 20th century. The Penguin pool was their first of many collaborations, the breath-taking osmosis of two experts in their discipline.

The Penguin Pool’s main feature was the two interlocking spiral ramps, hanging suspended from hidden columns. The ramps provided a spectacular stage for the penguins, and allowed its creators to present innovative, never utilised before concrete work techniques. Importantly, the pool showcased the underlying philosophy of Modernism in architecture, among whose principal aims was the improvement of the quality of life through design – the life of humans mainly, but also animals, as in this case.