The Castle Restaurant, a zoo restaurant designed by Lubetkin and Tecton and built in 1935-7.
Reason for Listing
The Castle Restaurant 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's strongly geometric form is designed to sit neatly on the outcrop which it crowns, and to give dramatic views to the north over the wooded Castle Hill;
* Group value: the restaurant 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 restaurant is designed to sit within the steeply-terraced slopes below the ruins of the medieval Dudley Castle, in whose grounds the zoo was created; it has an important axial relationship with the access to the castle over the moat.
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.
The Castle Restaurant, as one of the buildings whose design would need to be sensitive to the castle due to its proximity and place within an important view from the monument, was of necessity a single-storey structure, with a deliberately low profile to disturb the view as little as possible. Its shape was determined by the symmetrical triangular apex of the limestone outcrop on which it is set, which gives dramatic views over the steep, wooded slopes of Castle Hill to the north. The main elevation looks out onto the sea lion pools, with the curtain wall of the castle rising beyond it, and the small element of walling to the main elevation is constructed from rubble stone, to reflect its sensitive location, facing the access to the castle via the postern gate. The restaurant was the main space for formal eating in the zoo, with two cafés providing snacks; the seating area to the rear of the bar was also used in the 1960s and 1970s as a venue for evening entertainment, including dancing and live acts. There have been accretive changes associated with changing needs, and some upgrading and alteration of the internal fittings to reflect modern usage, as it remains in use as a restaurant. It is now, and has popularly been, known as the Queen Mary Restaurant, reflecting its resemblance to inter-war ocean liners.
PLAN: The main building is triangular on plan, with an elongated front range to the south. A basement-level range housing ancillary functions runs south-eastwards from the south-east corner of the building.
MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete, some stone rubble walling, and timber windows to the long, glazed elevations.
EXTERIOR: The building is a low, wide single storey to its main elevation, which faces south and is aligned on a bridge over the sea lion pools, which leads into the castle at the top of the mound beyond. The south elevation has a central entrance under round concrete arch, which continues towards the rear of the building as a barrel vault. The elevation is largely glazed, with square-framed timber windows extending floor to ceiling from under the arch to the final bay of the elevation on each side. The end bays, which house kitchens and service functions, each have a row of small, square windows above walls of rubble stone, matching the castle which the building faces. The side elevations, visible from the lower slopes, are filled floor-to-ceiling with outward leaning, horizontally-sliding timber windows.
INTERIOR: The building is divided into two main spaces: the entrance lounge, now housing the service counter; and the seating area of the restaurant to the rear. The building's structure is visible in both sections: concrete beams are carried on plain columns, and the roof slab, which is raised in a conic form, presents an arched appearance, increasing the sense of height inside the building without adding to the apparent external height. The original terrazzo floor covering has been concealed by later vinyl flooring, and the bar, which was designed by the architects to allow it to serve both the lounge and the restaurant, has been replaced with modern fittings.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.