As they swoop, swerve, plunge, and wind, the playful undulations of the Dudley Zoo’s Tecton buildings weave themselves into the natural landscape. Constructed between 1935 and 1937, the 12 structures comprising the complex were designed by the Tecton practice, a London-based association founded in 1932 by Berthold Lubetkin that was instrumental in bringing modernist architecture to Britain. This complex survives as the only collection of interrelated Tecton designs in Britain and one of few remaining throughout Europe.
The 12 buildings, which include six animal enclosures, the zoo’s entrance, two cafes, a restaurant, and two kiosks, are located on the grounds of the 13th/14th-century Dudley Castle. Solid cement construction retains the appearance of levity and weightlessness, forgoing linear design to follow the natural curves of its surroundings. Intended to harmonize with their environment, the structures follow the steep inclines of the region’s hills and wooded areas. Neglect, construction issues, and alterations have left the Tecton buildings in a general state of dilapidation and deterioration. Some can no longer function as they once did because of their current disrepair and the changing standards of zoo and animal management. Nevertheless, the buildings help define the zoo’s identity and unique character while remaining a significant architectural achievement.
Since The Watch
The 2010 Watch generated widespread interest in the future of the Tecton buildings. In July 2011, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced its support for a £1.15 million restoration program at Dudley Zoological Gardens. In the initial phase, a historic chairlift dating from 1958 was refurbished and is now back in use. The subsequent phase saw the restoration of four of the 12 original Tecton structures. Work began in September 2013 on the iconic Tecton entrance to the zoo and the adjacent Safari Cafe, now a giftshop, and was completed in 2014.
The old entrance building, with its distinctive series of S-shaped interlocking canopies, has been restored to its original sky blue paint scheme and visitors now enter the Zoo via the restored shop. The 1937 interior was stripped back to expose circular overhead light panels and the original paintwork of concrete pillars, and part of the space now houses an exhibition telling the story of the iconic Lubetkin buildings.
The structures were carefully restored, with technical assistance from the Twentieth Century Society and with the participation of students from Dudley College. Two more structures, the Bear Ravine and Kiosk 1, have also been restored. Dudley Zoo, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012, has continued to invest in its facilities and has seen a great increase in visitor numbers in recent years.