Listed Buildings And Architecture At London Zoo

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 21 months ago

Last Updated 27 September 2022

Listed Buildings And Architecture At London Zoo

London Zoo has had its fair share of famous residents in the past. But many visitors who spend a day at the zoo watching the gorillas or tigers fail to realise that many of the buildings they're looking at are also significant. The Regent's Park zoo is home to a number of listed buildings and structures, reflecting its history as the world's oldest scientific zoo.

Lubetkin Penguin Pool (Grade I listed)

The Lubetkin Penguin Pool. Photo: G Travels under a Creative Commons Licence

Perhaps most famous at London Zoo is the Lubetkin Penguin Pool. Used until 2004, the penguins were moved from the pool when it became clear that the concrete floor was giving them health problems, specifically aching joints. It was also too shallow for swimming or diving, and offered the little waddlers nowhere to nest. The much bigger, and more penguin-friendly Penguin Beach opened in 2011.

The pool was briefly home to Chinese alligators, but today it remains empty. The fact that it's listed prevents the zoo from affixing a sign to it letting the public know that it's no longer in use, so zoo visitors often still gather by this pool at the time that penguin talks are scheduled to take place. Health problems aside, the whitewashed concrete has two overlapping whirly slides that our inner child quite fancies taking a spin on. From above it looks like an eye, and was rumoured to be the inspiration for Penguin Books's logo.

Round House (Grade I listed)

The old gorilla house. Photo by Tony Hisgett under a Creative Commons Licence

The gorilla house, constructed in 1932-3, is now considered to be an important example of early modernist architecture in Britain. The original design consisted of convertible open caging so that the gorillas could have fresh air in the summer, and could be kept warm, but still on public display in the winter.

The famous Guy the gorilla, who arrived at London Zoo in 1947, never lived there — it was converted to house an elephant in 1939 (a feat which seems impossibly cruel now). It has since housed Kodiak bears, chimps and koalas, and is now home to lemurs and fruit bats.

Giraffe House (Grade II listed)

The Decimus Burton Giraffe House. Photo: Kashif Haque (2012)

Decimus Burton, an architect famous for designing the greenhouse at Kew and Marble Arch, among others, was also responsible for many of London Zoo's original buildings, several of which survive today. His giraffe house, opened in 1836, is the oldest building at the zoo which still houses the species for which it was designed. We don't suppose many animals have a requirement for 5 metre high doors on their accommodation. The giraffe house suffered bomb damage in 1940 and was repaired in 1960-3. The exterior remains unchanged from how Burton designed it, but the interior has been updated to accommodate the animals' needs. There are a few benches in there, making it a nice place to tuck into your packed lunch on a rainy day, provided a general farmyard odour doesn’t put you off your food.  Rumour has it that a giraffe keeper who died in 1979 was so devoted to his animals that his ashes were scattered in the vicinity of the giraffe house.

Clock Tower (Grade II listed)

Another Burton design in the (now) clock tower. Built in 1828, it was the first brick animal house in the zoo, designed for llamas. A year later, a clock tower was added to the top of the building, and the llamas were replaced with camels. A bell can still be seen on one end of the building, which was sounded at the end of each day for 150 years. Today, it's considered too small to house any animals and is the zoo's first aid post — so if you graze your knee or hit your head on your next trip to the zoo and find yourself in first aid, you'll be treading ground that used to be a llama's home.

Raven's Cage (Grade II listed)

Just opposite the clock tower, situated on the members' lawn, is the raven's cage. Built in 1829 (another of Burton's designs), it was one of the first enclosures in the zoo when it opened. It was used for housing ravens for 150 years, and sits empty today, being far too small to comfortably house any animals.

Snowdon Aviary (Grade II* listed)

The Snowdon Aviary. Photo by Marie Hale under a Creative Commons Licence

The Snowdon Aviary, designed by and named after Lord Snowdon, was built in 1962, the first walk-through aviary in existence at the time. It's designed to appear weightless, like a bird. A giant net 'skin' is wrapped around a skeleton of poles. Today, birds including peacocks and white ibis live within the structure.

Elephant and Rhino House (Grade II* listed)

The Casson Pavilion. Photo: That's not important right now

Hang around this building today for any period of time, and you're almost guaranteed to hear an adult telling their offspring "the elephants lived here when I came to the zoo as a child". The elephants have long since moved to London Zoo's partner zoo, Whipsnade, but some have said that the outside of the building looks like elephants gathered around a waterhole. We can't see it ourselves, although the textured concrete resembles the skin of an elephant.  The elephant and rhino house is also known as the Casson Pavilion, after architect Sir Hugh Casson, who designed it in 1962-5. Since the elephants' departure, it has housed animals of various sizes, from camels to porcupines, earning it the all-encompassing moniker Zoo World.

East Tunnel (Grade II listed)

The south entrance to the East Tunnel. Photo: David Holt

The East Tunnel, a pedestrian tunnel designed by Burton in 1829, links the north and south sides of the zoo, going underneath Regent's Park's Outer Circle road. The south entrance is designed in a classical style. The tunnel was used as a bomb shelter during the second world war. It's still in public use today, and a second tunnel now exists further west, next to the zoo's main entrance.

Telephone box (Grade II listed)

Photo: Pikakoko

The visitor area overlooking Penguin Beach is home to a K3-type telephone kiosk, repainted in its original colours. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (later responsible in part for Battersea Power Station) in 1928, the K3 is made from pre-cast concrete sections. There were originally 12,000 K3 kiosks across the UK, but today only three remain — and this is the only one in London.

Other notable features

    London Zoo's reptile house was the world's first reptile house. Although it was built in 1926, its five minutes of fame came in 2001, with the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which was partly filmed there
  • The first aquarium in the world was also at London Zoo in 1852, and the zoo is responsible for inventing the word "aquarium" (a contraction of "aquatic vivarium". The original no longer exists, but today's aquarium sits below a man-made mountain landscape, which has been home to goats and bears in the past, and today houses the Outback exhibit, with kangaroos, wallabies and emus.

Find out more about London Zoo's architecture on the ZSL website. History Tours and Architecture Tours of London Zoo are held regularly. Keep an eye on the events page for upcoming tours.