British Listed Buildings

History in Structure

If you log in, you can comment on buildings, submit new photos or update photos that you've already submitted.

We need to upgrade the server that this website runs on. Can you spare a quid to help?.

Zoo Education Department and Visitor Shelter at Dudley Zoo, Dudley

Description: Zoo Education Department and Visitor Shelter at Dudley Zoo

Grade: II
Date Listed: 20 August 1970
English Heritage Building ID: 217919

OS Grid Reference: SO9463690777
OS Grid Coordinates: 394633, 290778
Latitude/Longitude: 52.5149, -2.0805

Location: Dudley DY1 4AS

Locality: Dudley
County: Dudley
Country: England
Postcode: DY1 4AS

Incorrect location/postcode? Submit a correction!

Listing Text


Former Moat Café, now Education Centre and visitor shelter, designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, and built 1935-7.

Reason for Listing

The Education Centre, formerly the Moat Café, 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 curving profile, its discreet height and massing in a sensitive location, and the engineering involved in its construction are all impressive, and legible despite later alterations;
* Group value: the enclosure 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 enclosure 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.

The building was constructed as the Moat Café, one of three eating places within the zoo grounds. It was built on a site not originally considered suitable for a building, given that it would interrupt a key view from the moat road down the wooded slopes of the castle hill. However, it was eventually accepted by the Ministry of Works' Inspector, and in order to lessen its impact, the structure was made as light and transparent as possible, and the roof plan was made with flowing, serpentine curves, designed to break up the building's outline when viewed from above. The rear and sides were glazed, and the front of the building left open, to increase its transparency. The entrances were indicated by floating slabs suspended from the roof; the front of the space, between the entrances, was defined by the use of a low wall with coping raised on short steel struts – the standard walling used for viewing areas and some enclosures around the zoo, which was one of the unifying details of the Tecton structures. The building, like all the large structures Tecton designed for the zoo, took advantage of the steep slopes of the castle grounds, in this instance allowing the front of the building facing the castle to have a low, single-storey, but with a second, basement level at the rear to house stores, beer cellar and staff rooms. The basement level was accessible externally from a service road at the rear of the building. The single-storey front section was built on stanchions, to allow for the subsequent excavation of the land on which it stands to accommodate an aquarium, though this plan was never carried out.

The building has undergone significant alteration since its completion, most crucially in the infilling and glazing of the entire front elevation; it now functions as the Zoo's education centre.


PLAN: The building is serpentine on plan, with a rectangular block to the rear.

MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete.

EXTERIOR: The building is set at the top of a steep slope, meaning that it is a single-storey range to the main (east) elevation, and two storeys to the rear. The serpentine front elevation is an unbroken series of curves, alternating convex and concave, with a low wall converted from the parapet used for all the larger buildings designed by Tecton for the site; the low wall originally had its coping raised on elliptical-section steel struts, giving adults a raised surface on which to lean, and allowing children to view the animals without being lifted up. Above this the formerly open elevation is now glazed, the sections to either end with small-paned mullioned and transomed timber windows, the central section with metal-framed mullioned windows with some small opening panes. The central entrance has a recessed double-doorway; there are two alternative entrances spaced regularly along the range, echoing the original openings into the building. The rear elevation is of two storeys, the basement storey slightly recessed, and the upper floor supported on columns; both storeys have small-paned mullioned and transomed windows in strongly horizontal openings.

INTERIOR: The construction is expressed internally in the use of 9-inch diameter columns carrying, by the use of external and invisible beams, a flat roof slab which is flush with the underside of the beams, creating a fully-flush ceiling between the columns.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.