Foster + Partners revamp of Cedric Price’s famed Snowdon Aviary will be monkeys-only

Bye-Bye Birdies

Foster + Partners revamp of Cedric Price’s famed Snowdon Aviary will be monkeys-only

A view of Foster+Partners’ refurbished, bird-free Snowdown Aviary at the ZSL London Zoo. (© ZSL/Foster + Partners)

In late 2016, it was announced that Foster + Partners had been tapped to modernize one of London’s strangest midcentury landmarks: the Snowdon Aviary. Strongly influenced by the work of Buckminster Fuller, the tetrahedral bird habitat was the first walk-through aviary in the world when it opened in 1965 on the grounds of the ZSL London Zoo, designed in part by English architect Cedric Price. Spectacular shape aside, it owed much of its renown to its royal champion, the then-husband of Princess Margaret, Anthony Armstrong-Jones a.k.a. the Earl of Snowdon.

Now, Foster + Partner’s plans, which initially envisioned the Snowdon Aviary serving as a habitat for African grey parrots, free-roaming miniature duiker deer, and colobus monkeys, have been overhauled in favor of a single-species affair.

photo of a large aviary with river alongside it
Snowdon Aviary’s iconic original design by Cedric Price will be refurbished but left largely intact. (© Daniel Sprawson/ZSL)

According to a report in Building Design, the monkeys will now have exclusive run of the refurbished space due to a shift in the zoo’s animal welfare guidelines against the commingling of different species within a single enclosure.

And while monkeys taking up residence in one of the world’s most architecturally celebrated bird enclosures may seem a bit odd, Foster + Partners’ redevelopment scheme isn’t limited to the desperately in-need-of-repair aviary itself. Next to the soaring, mesh-netted tensegrity structure—the only one of its kind in Britain—the architects have placed a long monkey house whose dens can be easily partitioned as the resident troop grows and evolves. Per Building Design, the monkey house is substantially larger than the geodesic structure seen in the first round of plans back in 2017. Several elevated “monkey highways,” a remnant of the previous redesign, have been reprised in the latest proposal and will give the hirsute troop direct access to the aviary from the monkey house and vice versa. A new education/community center will also be built as part of the overhaul.

monkey house at snowdon aviary
The monkey house at Snowdon Aviary will be adaptable to the changing needs of its resident troop. (© ZSL/Foster + Partners)

“ZSL London Zoo is excited to submit these updated plans for the redesign of the landmark Snowdon Aviary, which reflect our decades of animal expertise and delivering awe-inspiring visitor experiences,” Rich Stortonk, ZSL’s managing director of zoos and engagement, told The Architects’ Journal in a statement earlier this spring. “The makeover has always been an ambitious project, which is only right for such an iconic structure. As planning has progressed and we prepare to break ground later this year, we are refreshing the plans to future-proof the building so that it can adapt to the changing needs of our colobus troop over time.”

A tangle of tensile structure supported by steel poles
After decades as a crowd-drawing bird habitat, the Snowdon Aviary will soon be home to somewhat unlikely species: colobus monkeys. (© ZSL/Foster + Partners)

While Lord Snowdon’s name is attached to the Grade II–listed aviary and, as such, he’s usually credited with its design, he was greatly aided in his efforts. His chief collaborator was Cedric Price, a visionary theorist, “anti-architect,” and all-around character perhaps best known for his wildly influential but never built “fun palace” project. (The concept did, however, experience something of a belated resurgence beginning in the early aughts.) Structural engineer Frank Newby, a friend of Price’s from the Architectural Association and a follower of Fuller’s, was pivotal to realizing the aviary, which, at the time of its debut, was considered impractical and avant-garde by many (though the 45 species of birds that called the spacious aviary home seemed to have had no complaints, nor did visitors).

The spruced-up and expanded Snowdon Aviary is expected to be completed next year. The ZSL London Zoo is also currently running a public fundraising campaign, led by television icon Sir David Attenborough, to help the zoo rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The colobus monkeys would much appreciate the assistance.