Blow it to Smithereens? The Fate of Berthold Lubetkin’s Modernist Penguin Pool at London Zoo – 把它炸成碎片?伦敦动物园伯托德鲁贝特金的现代企鹅池的命运

‘Perhaps it’s time to blow it to smithereens’ – with this comment Sasha Lubetkin, the daughter of modernist architect Berthold, has reignited the debate over what to do with the Penguin Pool at London Zoo, which has sat abandoned for more than a decade after its little waddling inhabitants were removed. The fate of this tiny Grade I listed structure, frivolous and avant garde in equal measure, is a microcosm of the legacy of modernist architecture in the UK, which for some reason is still capable of stirring up culture war angst almost a century later.

The pool was one of the earliest UK commissions for Berthold Lubetkin (1901-90), an architect from now-Georgia who had enthusiastically thrown himself into revolutionary constructivism, but who sensed the winds of change as official Soviet taste drifted towards Stalinist neoclassicism. Received warmly into progressive cultural circles on his arrival in the UK in 1931, and sensing an opportunity for work, he formed a collective practice called Tecton a year later with a group of recent graduates. An early break for Tecton was being introduced to Geoffrey Vevers, superintendent of London Zoo, whose own socialism drew him to commissioning radical new architects, trying out ideas for modern society on gorillas and penguins before humans.

The Penguin Pool itself is an eye-shaped structure, roughly 30 metres long, with an elliptical pool at the centre, a few metres below ground level. It is surrounded by a concrete wall with steps, gaps and canopies in tight geometrical relationships, all painted white with occasional dashes of colour, showing the influence of Le Corbusier. The centrepieces of the structure, designed with the engineer Ove Arup, are two wafer-thin helicoidal ramps that entwine over the centre of the pool. Ostensibly points for hauling up and launching off, they were designed to provide stimulation and interest to the inhabitants, but also as a thrilling spatial experiment with the possibilities of reinforced concrete. At the outer limit of what was structurally possible at that point, they were a manifesto that modernism could go beyond just a ‘rational’ display of structural forces, but could employ gymnastic engineering for theatrical effects.


Blow it to Smithereens? The Fate of Berthold Lubetkin’s Modernist Penguin Pool at London Zoo - 把它炸成碎片?伦敦动物园伯托德鲁贝特金的现代企鹅池的命运

Visitors feed the penguins at Berthold Lubetkin’s pool, London Zoo, 1936. Courtesy: Getty Images, Fox Photos

The Penguin Pool quickly became a significant work in the growing modernist canon, and Tecton soon were given the chance to design an entire zoo at Dudley, but their next significant works were the fantastic North London housing blocks Highpoint and Highpoint II, seminal examples of rationalism in architecture. Later Lubetkin projects included a number of council housing blocks across London, notable for their vertiginously dramatic staircases, such as those at Bevin Court in Islington, finished in 1954. Here the penguin pool’s circulation ramps are conceived as ‘social condensers’ that would stimulate human relations.

Lubetkin’s socialism was a lifelong commitment: he is one source to whom the phrase ‘nothing is too good for the ordinary person’ is attributed, and he designed a memorial to Lenin that legend has it he returned to by night and buried to prevent vandalism from the British Union of Fascists. But as the rational society he dreamed of failed to appear, disillusionment set in and he largely abandoned practice from the 1960s onwards.

The pool continued in use until 2004, when it was found an unsympathetic refurbishment had left surfaces that were causing the penguins infections on their feet. They were moved out, with eventually a new, much larger space opening for them in 2011. After a short period playing host to alligators the pool has been empty, hamstrung by its protected status.

Berthold Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool, London Zoo, 2010. Courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons; photograph: Chris Sampson

Blow it to Smithereens? The Fate of Berthold Lubetkin’s Modernist Penguin Pool at London Zoo - 把它炸成碎片?伦敦动物园伯托德鲁贝特金的现代企鹅池的命运

Berthold Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool, London Zoo, 2010. Courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons; photograph: Chris Sampson

But this is the point received opinion comes in. Instead of a mistaken refurbishment, some might say that the penguins never liked the space, they didn’t use the ramps, the enclosure even made them depressed. From a miniature manifesto of the new modern world, based on the latest in environmental research, the pool becomes a miniature of the hubris of architectural dreaming. In this telling, the geometry and spatial imagination create beauty for those of us standing looking in, but the contrived abstractions of habitat fail to accommodate the richness of lived experience, and alienation sets in. Modernism, like socialism, is all very good in theory, but people, or penguins, have to live with the results.

When the pool was listed in 1970, the Architects’ Journal caught up with Lubetkin but he was clearly not in the best of moods, telling them that ‘my personal interpretation is that these buildings cry for a world which has never come into being.’ It may seem odd that a play-space for our little tuxedoed avian friends could be taken that seriously, but then for modernists the future of the world was at stake: ‘The philosophical aims and orderly character of those designs is in a way diametrically opposed to the intellectual climate in which we live’ said Lubetkin; ‘the logical thing would be to blow them up.’

Zoo keepers and penguins at Berthold Lubetkin’s pool, London Zoo, 1939. Courtesy: Getty Images, Topical Press Agency

Douglas Murphy

Douglas Murphy is a writer based in London, UK. His book Last Futures: Nature, Technology, and the End of Architecture (2015) is published by Verso.

Opinion /

Berthold Lubetkin
Penguin Pool
Douglas Murphy

“也许是时候把它炸成碎片了”——现代主义建筑师伯托德的女儿萨沙·鲁贝特金(Sasha Lubetkin)发表了这一评论,重新引发了关于如何处理伦敦动物园企鹅池的争论。在伦敦动物园的企鹅池被移走后,企鹅池被遗弃了十多年。这座小小的一级建筑的命运,同样是轻浮前卫的,是英国现代主义建筑遗产的缩影,出于某种原因,它在近一个世纪后仍然能够激起文化战争的焦虑。这个游泳池是英国最早为伯托德·鲁贝特金(1901-1900)设计的游泳池之一。伯托德·鲁贝特金是一位来自现在的格鲁吉亚的建筑师,他曾热忱地投身于革命的建构主义,但他感受到了苏联官方品味转向斯大林主义新古典主义时的变化之风。1931年抵达英国后,他受到了先进文化界的热烈欢迎,并感受到了工作的机会,一年后,他与一群刚毕业的学生组成了一个名为泰顿的集体实践。伦敦动物园的负责人杰弗里·韦弗斯(geoffrey vevers)对泰顿的一个早期突破进行了介绍,他自己的社会主义吸引他委托激进的新建筑师,在人类面前尝试大猩猩和企鹅的现代社会理念。企鹅游泳池本身是一个眼睛形状的结构,大约30米长,中心是一个椭圆形的游泳池,在地面以下几米。它周围是一堵混凝土墙,有台阶、缝隙和天篷,几何关系紧密,都涂成白色,偶尔有颜色的条纹,显示出勒·柯布西耶的影响。中心部分的结构,设计与奥沃阿鲁普工程师,是两个薄型螺旋斜面缠绕在游泳池的中心。从表面上看,它们是用来拖运和发射的,旨在为居民提供刺激和兴趣,同时也是一个令人兴奋的空间实验,具有钢筋混凝土的可能性。在当时结构上可能存在的外部极限上,他们是一个宣言,现代主义可以超越对结构力量的“理性”展示,但可以运用体操工程来达到戏剧效果。LandgettyImages-3163770.JPG Blow it to Smithereens? The Fate of Berthold Lubetkin’s Modernist Penguin Pool at London Zoo - 把它炸成碎片?伦敦动物园伯托德鲁贝特金的现代企鹅池的命运游客在伦敦动物园的伯托德鲁贝特金游泳池喂企鹅,1936年。礼貌:盖蒂图片,福克斯照片,企鹅池很快成为一个重要的工作,在不断增长的现代主义佳能,泰顿很快就有机会设计一个完整的动物园在达德利,但他们的下一个重要的作品是神奇的北伦敦住房街区高点和高点二,开创性的理性主义的例子。在建筑方面。后来,鲁贝特金的项目包括伦敦各地的一些议会住宅区,以其令人惊异的戏剧性楼梯而闻名,比如1954年完工的位于伊斯灵顿的贝文法院(Bevin Court)。在这里,企鹅池的循环斜坡被认为是“社会冷凝器”,可以刺激人际关系。鲁贝特金的社会主义是他毕生的承诺:他是一个来源,这个短语“没有什么对普通人太好了”是归因于他,他设计了一个纪念列宁的传说,他在夜间返回并埋葬了它,以防止来自英国法西斯联盟的破坏。但由于他所梦想的理性社会未能出现,他开始幻想破灭,并从20世纪60年代开始基本上放弃了实践。这个游泳池一直使用到2004年,当它被发现时,一个无同情心的翻新已经离开了表面,导致企鹅的脚感染。他们被搬走了,最终在2011年为他们开辟了一个更大的新空间。在短时间内作为短吻鳄的主人,游泳池已经空了,受其保护状态的束缚。伯托德鲁贝特金的企鹅池,伦敦动物园,2010年。图片来源:Flickr,Creative Commons;图片来源:Chris Sampson Blow it to Smithereens? The Fate of Berthold Lubetkin’s Modernist Penguin Pool at London Zoo - 把它炸成碎片?伦敦动物园伯托德鲁贝特金的现代企鹅池的命运 Berthold Lubetkin's Penguin Pool,伦敦动物园,2010年。礼貌:Flickr,Creative Commons;照片:Chris sampson,但这正是人们接受的观点。有些人可能会说,企鹅们不喜欢这个空间,他们不使用斜坡,围栏甚至让他们沮丧,而不是错误的整修。从一个新现代世界的微型宣言,基于最新的环境研究,游泳池成为一个建筑梦想狂妄自大的缩影。在这个故事中,几何学和空间想象为我们这些站着观看的人创造了美,但是对生境的人为抽象却不能适应丰富的生活经验,而疏离开始了。现代主义,和社会主义一样,理论上都很好,但人,或企鹅,必须接受结果。1970年游泳池上市时,《建筑师杂志》赶上了鲁贝特金,但他显然心情不好,告诉他们:“我个人的解释是,这些建筑为一个从未出现过的世界而哭泣。”我们的小燕尾服鸟类朋友们的游戏空间可以在这一系列中占据,这似乎很奇怪。然而,对于现代主义者来说,世界的未来是危在旦夕的:“这些设计的哲学目标和有序特征在某种程度上与我们生活的智力环境截然相反,”鲁贝特金说,“合乎逻辑的事情是炸毁它们。”伦敦动物园伯托德鲁贝特金游泳池的动物园管理员和企鹅们,1939。礼貌:盖蒂图片,时事新闻机构道格拉斯墨菲道格拉斯墨菲是一个作家在伦敦,英国。他的书《最后的未来:自然、技术和建筑的终结》(2015年)由Verso出版。意见/意见建筑伯托德鲁贝特金现代主义企鹅池英国伦敦建筑道格拉斯墨菲


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