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Gorillas in the House of Light

Ashford, D. (2011). Gorillas in the House of Light. Cambridge Quarterly, 40(3), pp. 201-223. doi: 10.1093/camqtly/bfr018


The Gorilla House at London Zoo was the first in a series of remarkable modernist zoo buildings to be built in Britain by Berthold Lubetkin in the 1930s. In this article his Gorilla House is considered in relation to the pioneering work on the significance of the ‘Animal’ in western philosophy initiated by Derrida. Lubetkin's modernist structure is seen to constitute an anthropocentric reinstating of the human order over the animal, a rear-guard action against a culture-wide anxiety stemming from what Freud called humanity's second trauma, the threat to the foundations of humanist thought posed by Darwinian theory. This article contends that the anthropoid apes were a magnet for such fears from the moment of their discovery, and seeks to establish the precise nature of the menace that Lubetkin chose to place in this landmark of modernism, in this first ‘House of Light’.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Cambridge Quarterly following peer review. The version of record David Ashford; Gorillas in the House of Light. Cambridge Quarterly 2011; 40 (3): 201-223 is available online at:
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Journalism
Text - Accepted Version
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