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Description: Snowdon Aviary London Zoo
Date Listed: 12 June 1998
English Heritage Building ID: 469316
OS Grid Reference: TQ2788683562
OS Grid Coordinates: 527886, 183562
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5365, -0.1575
TQ 2783 NE REGENT'S PARK, NW1
1900/5/10103 Snowdon Aviary, London Zoo
Aviary. Designed 1960-1, erected 1962-5, opened 1965. Designed by Lord Snowdon and Cedric Price; Frank Newby of Felix Samuely and Partners engineer; Margaret Maxwell and Peter Shepheard landscape architects. Aluminium and steel structure on concrete foundations. Four tubular aluminium tetrahedra, a pair at either end of the cage, between which are interposed pairs of wider-gauge aluminium tubes in another plane, acting as shear legs and anchored to the ground by two posts in compression heavy rocker bearings and deep concrete infill. This framework supports a web of steel cables in constant tension, covered by an all-over black mesh of anodised aluminium netting. Through the middle of the cage a post-tensioned concrete bridge, cantilevered from the ends, forms an angled walkway. The plastic-coated handrail acts as a perch for the birds that does not freeze in winter. The ground within the cage consists of ledges, terraces and a very substantial concrete retaining wall, incorporating nesting boxes and feeding areas, which last was necessitated by the unstable canal bank and is not a major support of the structure above. The result is an apparently complex plan, which is in fact very simple; it is 80 feet at its maximum height, 150 feet in length, and 63 feet in breadth. Entered through doors and hanging chains (originally aluminium beads to deter the birds) either from the level or via steps from the canal level (designed by Shepheard) to either side.
The project for the aviary goes back to an energetic phase of expansion and modernisation undertaken at the zoo in the 1960s, commissioned by Solly Zuckermann and financed by the entrepreneur Jack Cotton, Charles Clore and others. Under the presidency of the Duke of Edinburgh, Hugh Casson prepared a plan for the zoo with Peter Shepheard. Lord Snowdon (then Tony Armtrong-Jones) had already built an aviary when he was commissioned by Zuckermann in 1960; he was joined by Price, newly set up in private practice . The Snowdon Aviary was Britain's first walk-through aviary, and the first anywhere with architectural force. It was also the second-largest aviary in the world when constructed. The Aviary belongs to the vigorous British strain of informal exhibition architecture that was particularly important in the 1950s and early 1960s with its strong feeling for the picturesque, and with the impetus of the Festival of Britain (1951), where again Casson had been the commissioning architect for a group of young designers. As important was the association through Newby with Samuely's work at the Festival. There, his Skylon had been the first tension structure in Britain, excepting bridges. The Aviary was the fast tensioned building intended to be permanent. The look, with its all-over netting, geometry and structural system all suggest the influence of R Buckminster Fuller, whose projects and philosophy of design were greatly admired by Snowdon and Price. They and Newby appear to have used
a tension structure at the Aviary above all because it was novel, refreshing and exciting. Nobody in Britain had tried this mode of structure on such a scale before. It also enabled a light, see-through effect in which the distinction between the inside and the outside is blurred. Both birds and spectators had greater freedom than in previous aviaries.
The lightness of the structure can be contrasted with the heavier, concrete shell parabolic structures fashionable at the time, whose form the Aviary echoes whilst eschewing such materials. More important is the half-ironic and wholly functional contrast between the delicate, soaring, unimpeded shape of the Aviary, and the weight of Casson and Conder's concrete, blank-walled Elephant and Rhino Pavilion (q.v.) at a time when zoo enclosures were expected to reflect and stimulate the characters of their occupants. Desmond Morris called it 'one of the curiosities of swinging-London architecture ... it hasn't dated in the least' (London Magazine, July 1994). In exploiting the drama of structural daring the Snowdon Aviary looked forward to the work of the so-called 'High Tech' architects of the 1970s and 1980s, notably Richard Rogers. It is also an important part of the British engineering tradition, as Rayner Banham recognised: 'It belongs to the tough-minded stream whose triumphs are the palm house at Kew Gardens, or Paxton's Victoria Regina house at Chatsworth' (Architectural Review, September 1965). For Lord Snowdon it remains important as a breakthrough to a lighter tradition. He also feels it is important to give visitors an unobscured view of the birds, as they are in the cage together; this concept clearly appeals to his vision as a photographer.
[Cedric Price, Works, Architectural Association; Architectural Review: December 1961, pp417-8; September 1965, p185; Architects' Journal: 27/4/61, p 599; D Hancocks, Animals and Architecture, pp 168-74; Peter Guillery, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, The Buildings of London Zoo, London, 1993, pp75-78.]
Listing NGR: TQ2788683562
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.