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The Snowdon Aviary at London Zoo

The Snowdon Aviary at London Zoo

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Published by Bernhard Blauel
seminal design by Cedric Price and Frank Newby
seminal design by Cedric Price and Frank Newby

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Published by: Bernhard Blauel on Nov 27, 2011
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The Snowdon Aviary at London Zoo In the late 80s I was supplementing the modest income of my fledgling practice

with teaching at the East London Polytechnic. The end of year show attracted the usual suspects and I was particularly pleased to see Cedric Price who was surrounded by his disciples, alternating between a precariously short cigar stump and a glass of red wine which was filled by an attentive student every time it became half empty. Only a few weeks earlier I had taken an intern to see the Snowdon Aviary on which I used to test studentsʼ observational abilities. I would take them over the bridge and let them puzzle over the gap where the two cantilevered concrete bridge halves meet without touching one another. I admit to be as excited by this as I am by the four tetrahedrons, which appear to float in mid-air. I had sent the student ahead, asking him to closely observe the concrete surface towards the middle of the bridge and then watch his vertigo stricken face. No reaction. The kid came back with nothing to report. I suspected a severe case of cognitive deficiency and walked over the pedestrian bridge myself. Much to my surprise the gap was sealed with a thick and rather clumsily applied strip of asphalt. Surely, Cedric must have been no less outraged by such insensitive mutilation of his work. He took a puff from his stump when I had finished the enraged account of my findings: “You say some structural detail has been covered up?” he summarized my laborious explanations. “Weʼd better check with Frank” he pointed at the only other person of his age group who had bothered to come all the way for the free drinks. Clutching an empty glass with his left and another full glass with his right hand, Frank Newby was leaning against a student exhibit which somewhat seemed to keep both model and him in some gravity-defying equilibrium. “This young man here claims your structural detail at the aviary has been tempered with” he intimated to his drinking pal and took another swig. “Whatʼs wrong with our bird cage?” Frank enquired. After I repeated my description of the sacrilege that had been committed by the zoo maintenance team he demanded to know where exactly the gap was supposed to be. I grabbed a piece of paper from a student and sketched out the two independent cantilevers. “Without a joint here, the whole thing would collapse” he said, steadying himself while he downed the other glass. “Ho, ho, if it was all that easy” the two cheered at each other and looked around in search for another bottle that had not yet been emptied. I left my two heroes reminiscing over their blurring memories and decided that I too had better found myself a glass to advance to that happy state of mind where it mattered little whether a pedestrian crossing was achieved by delicate cantilever or a plank of gunged up concrete.

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