I often say this to people, but Dudley must’ve had a really other worldly feel in the late 1930’s. Whilst other Midland towns were still clinging on to their Victorian, red brick style architecture, Dudley was blooming with Art Deco and Modernist designs that were completely modern and forward thinking. In one area alone it had the block that was the Dudley Hippodrome, a stunning Odeon Cinema, and the Tecton delight that was the entrance to Dudley Zoo. It is a true marvel of design that can still delight the eye 80 years later. (You can read more about Dudley Art Deco here.)
On Saturday we paid a trip to the zoo for the first time in some years. Joe was desperate to see the animals, I was desperate to see the old enclosures. These are the Tectons, and are now all Grade 2 listed, protecting these unusual structures for a future generation. The Tecton Group was a radical architectural group co-founded by Berthold Lubetkin, Francis Skinner, Denys Lasdun, Godfrey Samuel, and Lindsay Drake in 1932 and disbanded in 1939. They first found fame creating enclosures in London Zoo, and then went on to design more Zoo architecture at both Whipesnade and Dudley during the 1930’s.
The Tectons at Dudley Zoo are world renowned as the most complete set of buildings designed by the group, and in 2009 they were listed as endangered in the World Monuments Fund. In recent years there has been a sympathetic programme of restoration of the 12 buildings, which incorporated enclosures for the likes of the sea lions, bears, elephants and a bird house, as well as two cafes, the zoo’s entrance and two kiosks. The Queen Mary restaurant is still open, and the former Moat Cafe is now an education discovery centre. Only the Sea Lion pool is still used for it was designed for, with the former Reptilary now the home to the zoo’s meerkats.
I have loved the Tectons since I first visited the zoo as a child. I had no idea of their architectural importance, I just knew that they looked strange and weird and I loved that. Seeing them again all these years later, and following the trail which shows you the original architectural plans and designs, and archive photos, is just fascinating if you are a fan of modernist architecture.