Main Article Content
In 1936, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York commissioned the Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy to make a film, called The New Architecture of the London Zoo, about the now-iconic Penguin Pool (1934), with its spiraling concrete forms, and other zoo buildings designed by the Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin. Along with Moholy-Nagy, Lubetkin was part of a large community of Jewish émigré artists and architects living and working in interwar London. Lubetkin, ever argumentative, was apprehensive about the project, concerned that Moholy-Nagy’s overriding interest in “pure visual perception” would misguide the film. The finished product enraged the architect, and he responded abruptly and brusquely, that the film offered little reflection on the buildings or their historical and cultural contexts. The remark revealed the core of his concerns – architecture’s social principles. Although the penguins were cute, Lubetkin insisted his intention was always “to build socialistically,” and Moholy-Nagy’s film had missed the point. Through Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool and Moholy-Nagy’s film, this essay will offer some thoughts on 1930s England, abstract art, modern architecture, and the Jewish émigré, in order to understand why Lubetkin might have responded so abrasively, and to widen our understanding of the Penguin Pool.