A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection holds news about plans to build a small mountain range to house bears and goats in the heart of London…

Mappin Terraces: Section and elevations

Image: Section and elevations showing the profile Mappin Terraces, London Zoo, descending downwards towards the Tea Pavilion (now called the Mappin Pavilion, Grade II listed)
Source: Building News, 26 September 1913, vol.105, p.437

World-class institutions, such as London Zoo, grow over time through many small and large-scale decisions to add new staff, collections and facilities. Building News on 26 September 1913 was illustrated with images of the latest proposed “notable addition to the attractions of the Zoological Gardens”, the Mappin Terraces. What seemed astonishing a hundred years ago, still has the power to impress with its bold angular forms massed into peaks 70 feet (21 metres) high.

The architects were John Belcher and John James Joass. What else other than reinforced concrete could have created the irregular shapes their design required? This was at a time when the material was still considered quite new by Edwardian architects. By 22 May 1914 the Builder reported on the terraces, which were still under construction, and described it as being “quite unique in this country”, due to the innovative use of concrete and the water tanks concealed within the body of the terraces to replenish the ponds below with rainwater.

Plan view of the terraces

Image: Plan view of the Mappin Terraces, London Zoo, are organised in concentric curves, each level originally separated from the one below by a path, and radiating from the Tea Pavilion.
Source: Building News, 26 September 1913, vol.105, p.438

This artificial mountain habitat was designed for bears, goats and deer, though today it is the home for the zoo’s residents originating from Australia; despite the intention to provide a natural-looking home suitable for its original inhabitants, modern standards of animal care means the terraces are more suited to wallabies and emus. It was later adapted to incorporate an aquarium. Today, it endures as a vital piece of architecture supporting the work of the zoo in promoting the conservation of animals and their habitats.

Many major institutions have a rich history that have left them with buildings of significance, and London Zoo boasts a range of listed buildings, including the Mappin Terraces, currently Grade II listed. Amongst the other names to have designed buildings for the zoo are: Decimus Burton, who designed some of the Regent Park site’s earliest structures; and Lubetkin Drake & Tecton, responsible for the widely-admired penguin pool.

Penguin Pool, London Zoo

Image (enlarge):Elliptical pool and ramp, Penguin Pool, London Zoo, Regent’s Park, London, 1934
Architect: Lubetkin Drake & Tecton
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Image from RIBApix



  • Builder, 22 May 1914, vol. 106, pp.617-621
  • Building News, 26 September 1913, vol.105, pp.436-438


The original drawings of several schemes from the firm of Belcher & Joass for the Zoological Society are held in the RIBA’s Drawings and Archives Collection.


About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit www.architecture.com

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