Sphenisciform follows function

Now the occupants have migrated to their new facility 200m away, Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool of 1934 lies empty. Soggy leaves cwtch the corners, and watermarks drip down the paintwork. We’ll have to wait and see what London Zoo has planned for the pool, but given its Grade I status, it’ll doubtless be restored and repurposed.

It’s sad of course to see beautiful architecture neglected, but buildings can’t be the heroes of a zoo. London Zoo’s penguins are largely Humboldts and African, happier on tropical coasts than Antarctic tundra or modernist London concrete. The new facility, near the entrance, allows the colony to both thrive and act as a centrepiece for the zoo, at least until the new tiger enclosure is complete. (There is no universally accepted collective noun for penguins. Researchers at the 4th International Penguin Conference in Chile proposed “waddle” when the birds are on land, and “raft” when at sea. Since London Zoo’s new Penguin Beach features both land and water, I’ve chosen something more prosaic.) It even includes – to my childish envy – an enclosure whereby supplement-paying groups can meet the ‘guins, prodding fish toward them under the watchful eye of the staff.

It feels almost arrogant to approach building for animals with regard for entirely human axes such as aesthetics and style. Far better that the occupants can flourish somewhere architecturally unremarkable.