Zoo entrance building, designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, and built 1935-7.
Reason for Listing
The Entrance Building at Dudley Zoo, is designated at Grade II*, for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the building is one of twelve surviving structures at the zoo designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, with engineering by Ove Arup, built in 1935-7;
* Design interest: the building is of more than special interest for it's strongly geometric form and its innovative interlocking S-shaped canopy roof demonstrating clear architectural and engineering interest;
* Group value: the building demonstrates a strong group identity through the sharing of form, scale, materials and finishing with the other purpose-built structures created by Tecton for the zoo;
* Setting: the building is designed to sit on the steeply-terraced slopes below the ruins of the medieval Dudley Castle, in whose grounds the zoo was created.
The idea of a zoo at Dudley Castle was first mooted in 1935. The site belonged to the Earl Dudley and he, together with Ernest Marsh (director of Marsh and Baxter, a meat producer) and Captain Frank Cooper (owner of the marmalade factory) combined to form the initial board of directors of The Dudley Zoological Society. Captain Cooper owned Oxford Zoo and wanted to sell his own collection of animals. They appointed Dr Geoffrey Vevers, the Superintendent at London Zoo as their Advisor.
Vevers had previously worked with Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton at London Zoo, where their Gorilla House and Penguin Pool were completed in 1934 and 1935 respectively. It was through him that the practice received the commission. In addition, the contractors were J L Kier, for whom the engineer Ove Arup was working at the time, prior to establishing his own company. The resident site engineer was Michael Sheldrake and the job architect was Francis Skinner. The budget for the work was roughly £40,000 and there was pressure from the clients to open the new zoo for the summer season of 1937 and, in Lubetkin’s words, ‘to get as many goods as possible in the shop window’. In the event, the zoo opened on May 6, 1937 and a crowd of c.250,000 arrived, of whom only 50,000 could be admitted.
The thirteen buildings designed by Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton included a restaurant and two cafés. As the Architectural Review of November 1937 made clear, the problem for the designers was as much one of circulation and town planning as of building. A solution was found by free planning, which utilised the natural features of the castle site. At the centre was Dudley Castle, a Scheduled Monument in a state of semi-ruin, dating from the C11 to the C16 and built around a central courtyard.
The site for the zoo was the surrounding grounds of about thirty acres, which slope steeply down from the castle on all sides, forming terraces at different levels. The site had the advantage that the railway station and tram terminus were both within a few yards of the entrance, but several disadvantages had to be overcome; these included the steepness and shape of the site, which reduced the number of possible positions for buildings and enclosures and made construction work difficult. Transport problems to most parts of the castle grounds meant that the existing roads and paths, laid out as carriage drives and pathways in the C19, were used wherever possible, and construction work could not take place in wet weather. Moreover, extensive caverns associated with limestone workings from the C17 and C18 undermined large parts of the site and no accurate maps existed to guide the architects in choosing safe building locations. During construction of the foundations, an unexpected cave, at least fifty feet in depth, opened up beneath the bear pit.
Almost as difficult was the fact that the limestone, which formed the castle mound, was particularly hard, and although this created good foundations, blasting and clearing substantial areas of the site was considered unfeasible. Another consideration was that the castle was scheduled, and the Ancient Monuments department of the Office of Works had a degree of control over development of the castle grounds. Their position was that the educational value of the castle would be increased by the construction of the zoo buildings. Permission was allowed for buildings on the approach slopes to the castle, but those structures which were near to the castle, namely the restaurant, one café and the Elephant House and Sea Lion enclosure, had to be kept as low and inconspicuous as possible. It was also requested that the Sea Lion pools and the Restaurant should incorporate some areas of rubble stone walling to blend with the castle. Further considerations were drainage, and the fact that half of the site was in shadow for most of the day.
A planned route, grouping types of animals together, was not possible. Instead, the buildings had to signal the fact that they were related and the product of one overall scheme through congruities in their design; and functional buildings, such as cafés, lavatories and exits, had to indicate their purpose clearly. The sloping site allowed the architects to create designs which often incorporated two levels, and allowed the public access to viewing platforms above the animal enclosures.
Lubetkin described his role in the creation of the zoo buildings as ‘designing architectural settings for the animals in such a way as to present them dramatically to the public, in an atmosphere comparable to that of a circus’. This attitude was not universally popular at the time and has since been superseded by a desire to give animals more privacy and where possible, a naturalistic setting. Several of the buildings have changed their function since the zoo opened; these include the Reptile Enclosure, the Polar Bear enclosure, the Tropical Bird House, the Bear Ravine and the Elephant House, all of which now house different animals. Both of the cafés, which were originally open-air, have been adapted to be fully enclosed; and the kiosks which formerly sold cigarettes and chocolate are no longer used for this purpose as they do not meet modern environmental health standards for the sale of food. The nature of the construction of the buildings, in reinforced concrete, has caused problems with rusting and spalling of the concrete surfaces, and repairs have been necessary, including patch repairs and a covering of colour wash. Only one major building has been demolished: the Penguin Pool, which was smaller than that at London Zoo, was filled with salt water which reacted with the reinforcement rods embedded in the concrete body and caused rapid and extensive corrosion. The building was demolished in 1979.
Dudley Zoo continues in use as a visitor attraction, and participates in numerous captive breeding programmes to contribute to the conservation of species under threat.
There was only one possible space for the entrance building, as few areas of the grounds have a street frontage, and so the location of this building was easily decided. It sits on the narrow apron of land at the foot of the hill on which the castle sits, and as such, the depth of the building was severely limited. As it was necessary to provide eight turnstiles, to cope with the large numbers of visitors expected on weekends and holidays, the building was designed with a very wide street frontage. The sloping site meant that the single slab roof which had been employed for the larger buildings within the zoo site could not be employed here; the dynamic, interlocking S-shaped roof canopies were created as an alternative to enable the roof to step downwards, to follow the buildings they cover, and at the same time created an iconic design for this, the public face of the zoo. Practical considerations, such as the need to provide shelter for queuing visitors, and to maintain the appearance of the building, were taken into account, resulting in the deep overhang of the roof canopies, which have slots set just back from the front edge; this has the dual function of lightening the effect of the roof, and preventing staining of the visible front edge as rain water runs off.
The building has been little altered since it was constructed, and retains most of its fittings. It is still used as the main entrance for the zoo in the summer season, but is closed in winter in favour of an alternative entrance through the former Station Café, to the east.
PLAN: Rectangular plan, the long main elevation facing Castle Hill, and set well back from the road to provide a deep apron, allowing visitors to wait for entrance away from the edge of the pavement.
MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete, with blue brick to the front and rear walls, and timber fittings to the kiosks.
EXTERIOR: The building is a single storey, set on the slope of Castle Hill, and therefore steps downwards from west to east, following the slope of the ground. The range has five equally-spaced kiosks, separated by openings for the turnstiles, which are of equal width to the kiosks. The kiosks allow eight openings for the sale of tickets, each back-to-back within the booths, apart from those at the ends, each of which has one ticket window and another area for staff facilities. The walls are faced in blue brick; the central three bays each carry a concrete letter, spelling Z O O. The roof, carried on round steel columns, is formed from interlocking, shallow S-shaped concrete canopies, enabling the roof to step elegantly down the slope. The projecting roof elements, which also form a shelter for queuing visitors, each have a slot set just back from the front, to allow water to run off without staining the front edge. Each ticket window is half-glazed, adjacent to an entrance doorway; the ticket positions retain their glazed timber windows, with a small counter for transactions. The rear is similar to the main elevation. The blind returns are constructed from blue brick.
INTERIOR: The kiosks have matchboarding to the interior, with a dado-height partition clad in matchboard separating the two ticket positions.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.