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A life in architecture

Dr Jo Gipps, director of London Zoo, is a conservationist: he likes to see buildings put to good use even when they are no longer suitable for their original purpose. This applies equally to buildings in his care at the zoo and to places he has lived in.

His first home after he married was a tiny Georgian terraced house by the Thames in Staines. Built in 1755, it was only 12 foot wide and three storeys high. Despite unsympathetic modernisation, it was, he says, 'probably the nicest bit of historic architecture I've ever lived in'. He has recently bought a windmill in Anglesey and is looking forward to converting into a holiday home.

At the zoo, where the well-being of the animals is paramount, similar adaptations are afoot. Fortunately, the penguins are happy in Lubetkin's elegant Penguin Pool, but the gorilla house, also by Lubetkin and Tecton, too small for its original purpose, is to be used to house lemurs. The Mappin Terraces are also being brought back into use by modified improvements. Gipps enjoys modern architecture and has high praise for I M Pei's Pyramid at the Louvre (pictured). 'It sits extraordinarily well within its highly Baroque environment. This ability to meld the modern with older surroundings is a great skill,' says Gipps, a person who is constantly having to balance the old and the new, to say nothing of the books, at London Zoo.

The Web of Life building at the Zoo is reviewed on page 28.

Deborah Singmaster

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