BROWN BEAR RAVINE AT DUDLEY ZOO (INCLUDING ALL ASSOCIATED STRUCTURES)
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Location Description:
- Castle Hill, Dudley.
- Statutory Address:
- 2 The Broadway, Dudley, West Midlands, DY1 4QB
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- Statutory Address:
- 2 The Broadway, Dudley, West Midlands, DY1 4QB
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- Castle Hill, Dudley.
- Dudley (Metropolitan Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Former brown bear ravine, with associated features including elevated viewing platforms on several levels, enclosure walls, steps, and ramps and platforms within the enclosure, designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, and built 1935-7.
Reasons for Designation
The former brown bear ravine and associated structures at Dudley Zoo, is designated at Grade II*, for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the building is one of twelve surviving structures at the zoo designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, with engineering by Ove Arup, built in 1935-7; * Design interest: the building is of more than special interest for it's strongly geometric forms, and multi-level arrangement of viewing platforms, with sinuous perimeter walls demonstrating significant sophistication in its design and engineering; * Group value: the enclosure demonstrates a strong group identity through the sharing of form, scale, materials and finishing with the other purpose-built structures created by Tecton for the zoo;
The idea of a zoo at Dudley Castle was first mooted in 1935. The site belonged to the Earl Dudley and he, together with Ernest Marsh (director of Marsh and Baxter, a meat producer) and Captain Frank Cooper (owner of the marmalade factory) combined to form the initial board of directors of The Dudley Zoological Society. Captain Cooper owned Oxford Zoo and wanted to sell his own collection of animals. They appointed Dr Geoffrey Vevers, the Superintendent at London Zoo as their Advisor.
Vevers had previously worked with Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton at London Zoo, where their Gorilla House and Penguin Pool were completed in 1934 and 1935 respectively. It was through him that the practice received the commission. In addition, the contractors were J L Kier, for whom the engineer Ove Arup was working at the time, prior to establishing his own company. The resident site engineer was Michael Sheldrake and the job architect was Francis Skinner. The budget for the work was roughly £40,000 and there was pressure from the clients to open the new zoo for the summer season of 1937 and, in Lubetkin’s words, ‘to get as many goods as possible in the shop window’. In the event, the zoo opened on May 6, 1937 and a crowd of c.250,000 arrived, of whom only 50,000 could be admitted.
The thirteen buildings designed by Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton included a restaurant and two cafés. As the Architectural Review of November 1937 made clear, the problem for the designers was as much one of circulation and town planning as of building. A solution was found by free planning, which utilised the natural features of the castle site. At the centre was Dudley Castle, a Scheduled Monument in a state of semi-ruin, dating from the C11 to the C16 and built around a central courtyard.
The site for the zoo was the surrounding grounds of about thirty acres, which slope steeply down from the castle on all sides, forming terraces at different levels. The site had the advantage that the railway station and tram terminus were both within a few yards of the entrance, but several disadvantages had to be overcome; these included the steepness and shape of the site, which reduced the number of possible positions for buildings and enclosures and made construction work difficult. Transport problems to most parts of the castle grounds meant that the existing roads and paths, laid out as carriage drives and pathways in the C19, were used wherever possible, and construction work could not take place in wet weather. Moreover, extensive caverns associated with limestone workings from the C17 and C18 undermined large parts of the site and no accurate maps existed to guide the architects in choosing safe building locations. During construction of the foundations, an unexpected cave, at least fifty feet in depth, opened up beneath the bear pit.
Almost as difficult was the fact that the limestone, which formed the castle mound, was particularly hard, and although this created good foundations, blasting and clearing substantial areas of the site was considered unfeasible. Another consideration was that the castle was scheduled, and the Ancient Monuments department of the Office of Works had a degree of control over development of the castle grounds. Their position was that the educational value of the castle would be increased by the construction of the zoo buildings. Permission was allowed for buildings on the approach slopes to the castle, but those structures which were near to the castle, namely the restaurant, one café and the Elephant House and Sea Lion enclosure, had to be kept as low and inconspicuous as possible. It was also requested that the Sea Lion pools and the Restaurant should incorporate some areas of rubble stone walling to blend with the castle. Further considerations were drainage, and the fact that half of the site was in shadow for most of the day.
A planned route, grouping types of animals together, was not possible. Instead, the buildings had to signal the fact that they were related and the product of one overall scheme through congruities in their design; and functional buildings, such as cafés, lavatories and exits, had to indicate their purpose clearly. The sloping site allowed the architects to create designs which often incorporated two levels, and allowed the public access to viewing platforms above the animal enclosures.
Lubetkin described his role in the creation of the zoo buildings as ‘designing architectural settings for the animals in such a way as to present them dramatically to the public, in an atmosphere comparable to that of a circus’. This attitude was not universally popular at the time and has since been superseded by a desire to give animals more privacy and where possible, a naturalistic setting. Several of the buildings have changed their function since the zoo opened; these include the Reptile Enclosure, the Polar Bear enclosure, the Tropical Bird House, the Bear Ravine and the Elephant House, all of which now house different animals. Both of the cafés, which were originally open-air, have been adapted to be fully enclosed; and the kiosks which formerly sold cigarettes and chocolate are no longer used for this purpose as they do not meet modern environmental health standards for the sale of food. The nature of the construction of the buildings, in reinforced concrete, has caused problems with rusting and spalling of the concrete surfaces, and repairs have been necessary, including patch repairs and a covering of colour wash. Only one major building has been demolished: the Penguin Pool, which was smaller than that at London Zoo, was filled with salt water which reacted with the reinforcement rods embedded in the concrete body and caused rapid and extensive corrosion. The building was demolished in 1979.
Dudley Zoo continues in use as a visitor attraction, and participates in numerous captive breeding programmes to contribute to the conservation of species under threat.
The enclosure designed by Tecton for brown bears has some of the most dramatic topography in the zoo; it made full use of a deep ravine which allowed visitors to view the animals from above, from an expansive semi-circular terrace set against the higher contour of the falling ground and, at a slightly lower level, from a boldly-cantilevered terrace which projects out over the ravine like the prow of a ship. Like the other larger animal enclosures in the zoo, the design of the buildings facilitated the movement of visitors from one level to another within the grounds without an obvious steep climb. The design of the enclosure had to be modified during construction, as a large cavern opened up in historic limestone works under the site; it was retained as part of the varied terrain which the bears enjoyed within the enclosure. The unflinchingly geometric forms used for the viewing terraces contrast sharply with the rugged, natural background of the hillside, into which the indoor animal houses are built. The terraces share common features with the other Tecton buildings within the zoo; the standard parapet and railing - a low wall with its coping raised on elliptical-section steel struts, giving adults a raised surface on which to lean, and allowing children to view the animals without being lifted up - was here expanded into a 10-foot wide terrace supported at 20-foot intervals on centrally-placed columns with mushroom capitals; this feature also used for the polar bear, lion and tiger complex, and provides a further visual link between the buildings, despite their very different forms. The westernmost column was wrapped around by wire mesh, creating a circular enclosure to house squirrels.
The enclosure is no longer suitable for the keeping of bears, and is therefore not used for its original purpose.
PLAN: A semi-circular viewing platform curving against the contour of the hillside against which the enclosure is set, with a terrace at lower level projecting into the ravine; towards the east, below a lower terrace, there is a sinuously-curving perimeter to the enclosure, clasping a pool. There are various irregular platforms for the animals projecting from the sloping ground at the western side of the enclosure.
MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete.
EXTERIOR: The enclosure drops steeply from west to east, with the highest level viewing terrace set against the hillside, and projecting towards the west. The largest element of the design is a semi-circular terrace, 10 feet wide, reached by a stair from the rear, supported at 20-foot intervals on centrally-placed columns with mushroom capitals. At a slightly lower level, a boldly-cantilevered terrace projects out over the ravine from the centre of the semi-circle like the prow of a ship. The terraces have complex variations in their levels and circulation. The zoo's standard parapet and railing - a low wall with its coping raised on elliptical-section steel struts, giving adults a raised surface on which to lean, and allowing children to view the animals without being lifted up - is here used to either side of the terraces. The animal houses, with simple rectangular openings, are tucked under the terraces, against the hillside. The north-eastern corner of the enclosure is at ground level, and has a sinuously-curving wall describing its edge, surrounding a pool. There are various platforms projecting from the hillside at the western side of the enclosure, together with pools, steps and ramps, surrounding the deep ravine towards the eastern side.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Allan, J, Berthold Lubetkin, (2002), 21, 22, 78
Hitchman, J, Towers and Tectons at DZG - a view from the hill, (2009)
'Architectural Review' in The Zoo at Dudley, , Vol. 82, (November 1937), 177-186
'Architects' Journal' in Zoo at Dudley, , Vol. 86, (4 November 1937), 717-722
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing