Not many modern buildings achieve instant popular success, but the Penguin Pool at the London Zoo outstandingly did; and for something like fifteen years it held a unique place as the only playful piece of modern architecture in Britain, until the Festival of 1951. The high popular regard was in some ways unfair to the numerous other first class zoo buildings designed by the Tecton partnership that centered on Berthold Lubetkin for most of the thirties, forties and fifties, yet the esteem is not undeserved.
For a long time this oval hole in the ground with its interlocking spiral ramps was out-and-away the least inhibited and least parochial new building in Britain, and it could probably stand examination in its own right as a piece of abstract sculpture of the Anglo-constructivist epoch (the period when Naum Gabo was still working in England). It can also stand up as a pretty crisp piece of concrete engineering for its period, those ramps, though small, must impose some curious twisting loads on their points of anchorage, and are reputed to be practically solid steel reinforcing with a thin cover of concrete.
But chiefly, and permanently, the Penguin Pool stands up by reason of its entire aptness to its subject matter and purpose. To the best possible advantage it exhibits the pompous-ridiculous antics of the penguins to the human race whose pompous-ridiculous behavior the penguins unwittingly ape. In honor of their unconscious mockery, the penguins were fluttered with a rather better building than was available to most English human beings of the period. There must be some moral in this.
Banham R. Age of the Masters: A Personal View of Modern Architecture. Harper & Row., 1975. P. 80.