Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Whoops!!! Zoological Architecture--Snowdon Aviary London Zoo

April 21, 1961

Designers; Cedric Price, Frank Newby, Lord Snowdon, 1962-1965
Reyner Banham wrote a criticism in AD September 1965, where the details of this project were published.
Banham starts by comparing this structure to traditions of Palm House at Kew and Paxton at Chatsworth. His admiration for the structure was in no doubt, but he was quick to pick out some potential weakness of detailing and design meant to form ideal living conditions for the birds and viewing public within the aviary. He was right to cast some doubts about the introduction of public access offered by a cantilevered bridge with views of artificial cliff face on one side and the washing and wading areas of water falling just below the cliff. All this assumed that birds will behave and use the spaces as anticipated by the designers, but as he rightly foresaw birds are unlikely to be fooled to nest on a sheer concrete wall, barely few feet away from noisy public members staring in their nests. The waterside features for birds were very likely to get thumbs down from the birds. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened. There is a 'mismatch' between the clever and inventive structure, the aviary enclosure and the features formed to encourage birds to do their 'own things' and to be seen by the visiting public.
Banham was also critical of details for attaching the mesh to the structure, which he thought was crude. I personally would have ignored it as a minor criticism but the subsequent patching up of the netting does distract from a sophisticated structure, sitting with perfect balance and poise on a very steeply sloping site. Banham did not think much of the handrail/balustrade detailing of the bridge, but that was 'Pre- Health & Safety Era' and subsequently the obligatory vertical steel supports at 100 mm centres were introduced making the situation even worst.
Banham ended his criticism after pointing out the weaknesses of detailing noted above with these words ".....these failures may yet prove to be difference between a great building of the twentieth century and a major building of the nineteen-sixties"
Far sighted, clever Banham never missed much and I am afraid in this instance the structure would come quite high on the list of major late 20th century buildings. However, if the 'birdthoughts' were correctly transmitted to Cedric Price or birds were able to issue a 'wish list' to the builders to demolish the existing rubbish within the shell of the aviary and rebuild it according to their (inhabitants) wishes, this would be a bird paradise and a very happy CP in his resting place.  Iqbal Aalam

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