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Gorillas In The House of Light: London Zoo and the Modernist Project

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In this talk Dr. David Ashford discusses the remarkable modernist zoo architecture created in England by Berthold Lubetkin. At a time when many people were compelled to live in substandard victorian terraces, penguins, elephants, polar bears and gorillas at London, Dudley and Whipsnade Zoo could be seen living in stylish Corbusian villas. For most of the people who flocked to see them this was to be their very first encounter with modernist architecture; and Lubetkin’s zoos are in fact a significant milestone for the movement, built at a time when the works of the modernist mainstream centred in Paris remained for the most part on the drawing board.

These classic works of modernism are to be examined in the new context provided by the pioneering theoretical work that has been done on the significance of the “Animal” in the history of European Rationalism – a project initiated by Derrida.

This talk considers how Lubtekin’s Cartesian geometries create the illusion of free circulation even as they police the boundary between the human and the animal – a boundary that is shown to have become increasingly fraught over the course of the inter-war period – menaced by the apes that Lubetkin had placed in what may be England’s first “House of Light”.

This talk is part of the Queens' Arts Seminar series.

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