Since London Zoo opened in 1828, many leading architects have contributed to the built environment of the Zoo, creating a collection of buildings that includes two Grade I and eight Grade II listed structures.
In 1826, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles along with Sir Humphrey Davy founded the Zoological Society of London.
Decimus Burton (1880-1881) was asked to lay out the grounds and housing for the animals in London Zoo. Decimus, whose name derives from the fact that he was the tenth of ten children, was an extraordinarily gifted architect and many of the original constructs in the Zoo that still exist are of Burton’s design.
He was the Zoo’s official architect from 1826 to 1841 and had designed for his father the first house to be allowed in Regent’s Park called The Holme, at the tender age of eighteen. He went on to design South Villa, Grove House, St Dunstan’s Lodge and St John’s Lodge in the Park all within a few years.
Clock Tower 1828
By Decimus Burton, listed Grade II
The earliest extant building in the Zoo, the Clock Tower was designed by Burton in 1828, the same year that ZSL received its Royal Charter from George IV. In the minutes of ZSL of the 18th March 1829, "It was ordered that a clock be prepared for the Gardens to be placed on top of the Llama’s hut and that Decimus Burton be requested to prepare a drawing of the intended addition to the building for its reception. The expense of the clock and building is not to exceed the sum of £100, including the putting up the same in the turret."
The clock was added in 1831 and it was rebuilt in 1844 as a Gothic house for Llamas; it is now considered far too small for animals of any description and was reconstructed in 1898 by the architects Charles Brown Trollope.
It suffered, like other parts of the Zoo, from bomb damage in 1940. Rebuilt in 1946-7 by the architects Burnet, Tait & Lorne, it was converted into shops in 1988 and now serves as a First Aid post. In the eaves are the nests of the Zoo’s resident colony of house sparrows.
The Raven’s Cage 1829
By Decimus Burton, listed Grade II
Originally designed to house a pair of king vultures and later for macaws and ravens, it is now home to the indigenous wild birds of the Zoo. Renovated in 1927, bomb damage led to it being reconstructed in 1948. It was moved in 1971 to its present site on the Fellows Lawn.
East Tunnel 1829-30
By Decimus Burton, listed Grade II
This beautiful construction linked the North and South parts of the Zoo together for the first time. During World War II, it served as a bomb shelter.
Three Island Pond 1832
By Decimus Burton
This irregularly shaped artificial pond was laid out by Decimus Burton and was extended in 1852. This is possibly the only landscape to remain from the early layout of the Gardens. The south side is incorporated into the New Lion Terraces.
The islands are planted with large willows, and they are populated by pelicans, flamingos, cormorants, and also wild herons which regularly fly in for a meal!
The pond was altered in 1961 and again in 1976.
Parish boundary markers 1821 and 1854
These posts, some of which pre-date the Zoo, mark the edges of the parishes of St Marylebone and St Pancras.
Giraffe House 1836-7
By Decimus Burton, listed Grade II
This building is utterly functional and still serves its purpose – the housing of giraffes. The doors are 16’ (5m) in height and 21’ (6.5m) at the eaves. Giraffes can be as tall as four-and-half metres so the scale of the building’s proportions is a direct response to the height of its residents. There are many fine examples of architecture in the Zoo, but few have remained for their original inhabitants.
In 1835, the Society received one female and three males and giraffes have occupied Burton’s house ever since.
Wings were added in 1849-50. There was bomb damage in 1940 and Franz Stengelhofen and Colin Wears rebuilt it in 1960-3.
Primrose Hill Footbridge 1874/1879-80
By John Fowler, engineer, listed Grade II
The West Footbridge, 1960-61, by Casson, Conder and Partners has also been listed.
Mappin Terraces 1913-4
by Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell and John James Joass, listed Grade II
This extraordinary imitation of a mountain landscape was designed to provide a naturalistic habitat for bears and other animals. Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell, whose inspiration it was, was the Secretary of the Zoological Society of London from 1903-35. The construction of the terraces showed what could be done with reinforced concrete, which was then a comparatively new material. The cavernous interior, like that of a real mountain, holds reservoirs of water which is filtered and circulated into the Aquarium below. The Mappin Terraces currently house wallabies and emus.
The Aquarium (1923-24)and The Mappin Tea Pavilion (1914-20) on the same site have also been Grade II listed.
War memorial 1919
by John James Joass
The design is based on a medieval Lanterne des Morts, a memorial to the dead at La Souterraine in the Creuse Valley, France.
Reptile House 1926-7
by Joan Beauchamp Proctor and Sir Edward Guy Dawber
Reptiles and other animals carved by George Alexander climb over the door frame.
K3-type telephone kiosk 1928-9
By Giles Gilbert-Scott, listed Grade II
Gilbert-Scott, the architect of Battersea Power Station designed the K2 telephone box in 1924 for a competition, but his second design, the K3 was made from reinforced concrete at half the price of the cast-iron K2. This has now been repainted in its original colours.
Round House 1932-3
by Tecton, listed Grade I
One of the first buildings to be built in the Modernist style in Britain. Modernists believed that the best buildings reflected their function in a clearly expressed way, and this style dominated British architecture from the 1950s to the 1980s. The Round House is circular so that a half-drum shaped screen could be slid from within one half of it to enclose the other in cold weather, as a protection for the gorillas it was built to house. Like the Giraffe House one hundred years before, its simple shape is a direct response to its function, but now there are only minimal references to Classical architecture.
Penguin Pool 1934
by Tecton, listed Grade I (left)
The Penguin Pool is perhaps the most famous building in the Zoo. Like the Round House, it was designed by the influential Tecton architectural firm, led by Russian emigre Berthold Lubetkin. Tecton's brand of Modernist style was unusually elegant and playful and is a reminder of how innovative the style must have looked when it first appeared.
North Gate Kiosk 1936
by Tecton, listed Grade II
Has an unusual curved concrete canopy.
Snowdon Aviary 1962-4
by Tony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), Cedric Price and Frank Newby
The aviary looks almost weightless - like a bird. Its frame was pioneering in that it made use of aluminium, and in that it was an example of a kind of engineering that uses tension to support its structure. A giant net 'skin' is wrapped around a skeleton of poles - paired diagonal 'sheer legs' at either end, each lined to a three-sided pyramid or 'tetrahedron' - which is held in position only by cables.
Casson Pavilion 1962-5
by Sir Hugh Casson, Neville Conder and Partners
As heavy and solid as an elephant - the perfect contrast to the Snowdon Aviary, which was being built at the same time. The concrete ribs covering the outside imitated an elephant's hide, and they also prevented the animals from damaging the building. Tall green lanterns gave the impression from above of elephants gathering around a water-hole. All elephants and rhinos are now live in spacious accomodation at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
Sir Hugh Casson, the President of the Royal Academy who was the architect for the Festival of Britain, received the 1965 RIBA award for the best building in London of that year for the elephant house. It has also been sneeringly noted as ‘being ideal for the arboreal elephant’.
Architecturally, the interest in the building lies in its use of concrete, which is now a widely used material in the construction of modern houses.
New Lion Terraces 1972-6
By John Toovey , Colin Wears and Roger Balkwill. Landscape artist was Margaret Maxwell and the building contractors were John Jarvis & Sons.
A stone inscribed ‘The Lions House’ was taken from the previous Lion House in 1875. The plural ‘S’ was added in the 1970s.
Lion's Mask 1875-7
On the New Lion Terraces (1972-6), taken from the previous Lion House.
Bear Cub (Winnie Memorial) 1981
by Lorne McKean
Winnie-the-Pooh was named after Winnie, an American black bear from Winnipeg who lived on the Mappin Terraces from 1914 to 1934.
Guy the Gorilla 1982
by William Timym
Guy was a famous resident of the Zoo from 1947 to 1978.
Globe Sundial 1989
by Wendy Taylor
The fin casting the least shadow indicates the time.
The Amphitheatre 1982-5
By John Toovey.
This covered amphitheatre is currently used for the Animals in Action displays.
African Aviary 1989-90
by the John S Bonnington Partnership, with Whitby and Bird, engineers
The African Aviary uses very fine wires fixed under tension made from a specialist stainless steel alloy.
By Wharmby Kozdon Associates.
The creation of this building came about from a request from keepers of the Invertebrate Department and was ready for the Millenium. The Royal Fine Art Commission ‘commended the Zoological Society on continuing its tradition of producing innovative buildings’.
The Chair of the Royal Commission on The Historical Monuments of England wrote in his Introduction to the Commission’s work on the Zoo:
“ Taken as a whole the buildings of the Zoo can tell us as much about the history of animal display over a period spanning nearly 170 years, as well as informing the broader concerns of architectural history “.
Gorilla Kingdom 2007
Architects: Proctor & Matthews
This lightweight structure and landscaped exhibit was completed in 2007 on the site of the previous Sobell Pavillions ape and primate houses.
The design made use of existing holding facilities to reduce the amount of demolition and new construction work required. It uses a translucent roof in the gorilla indoor area to reduce the need for artificial lighting and to create a more naturally lit space. The covered walkway structure is made from sustainably sourced ply-wood and hardwood used is from reclaimed Indian railway sleepers. Structural bamboo was selected to support the structure for its strength, aesthetics and low embodied-carbon properties.
Text by Jack Amos, a ZSL Library Volunteer who sadly died in 2010.