“There are two possible methods of approach to the problem of zoo design; the first, which may be called the ‘naturalistic’ method, is typified in the Hamburg and Paris zoos, where an attempt is made, as far as possible to reproduce the natural habitat of each animal; the second approach, which, for want of a better word we may call the ‘geometric’, consists of designing architectural settings for the animals in such a way as to resent them dramatically to the public, in an atmosphere comparable to that of a circus.”
Berthold Lubetkin, Dudley Zoo, unpublished manuscript, ca 1938 p. 9

To transfer knowledge about the animals was not just a sport for the members of the league. It was a part of their identity. They made scientific claims quite early to give the zoo some agency. During the late 1850s they made it public, making it even more urgent to present the animals in a educational manner. However, one could see the disappointment in the eyes of the adventurers that caught the beasts. That time of bounty and bragging was over. They were now educational tools.

As the zoo has gone through this reductive process it has morphed and specialized. Some into highly scientific preservationist institutions, grappling with animal extinction and becoming reproduction facilities. Other turned into leisure parks. But the Disney orca type entertainment had run its course, and the cabinet type zoos are going out of order. Just a few last-standers, like BIG architects still try to bring it. Working like the futuristic colonial scenarios from the 60s were never questioned.

These architectural maneuvers are being put in place to gloss over how the zoo creates the exotic other. In their zootopia, the barrier between spectator and animal is removed to give let everyone have that “Christian the lion”-experience. However, they are falling into the trap of not understanding that the cage represents the platform for connection and a removal of it represents total subordination and instrumentalisation of the animal. The double purpose of the cage is to present the animal in a “naturalistic” environment, but also to entice the spectator. We do want them to perform for us.

“This conception has two main faults: it allowed the very shy animals to hide themselves from the public gaze, almost indefinitely, while those with a taste for publicity were not able to indulge it to the best advantage”
The New Penguin Pool in the Zoological Gardens, London’, Architect and Building News, 1 June 1934, s. 254

The London zoo architect Berthold Lubetkin felt that a humane cage existed on behalf of one that gives the spectator “the” experience.

The drama disapered when the animal could hide or feel comfortable to mostly just sleep and eat. He felt his role as an architect was to bring the drama for the public. The spectators don’t want a chill penguin, they want it to slide for them. What has changed from Lubetkin to BIG Architects is just the crude modernist ramps, as means of behavior modification. But the idea is still there. To enhance it further he felt that there should be a rich contrast between the animal cages and the zoo environment. A sort of cabinet effect that will entice the audience and isolate the object animal. Letting the public also feel safe as the system echoes dominance in the architectural frame.

“Nature tamed – not with a fist, but with a smile.”
Allan, John Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the tradition of progress, RIBA Publications, 1992 p. 201

All the animals gave the impression of being isolated from each other, creating a tension similar to one in an gallery space. Wall power and spatial presence makes for a successful exhibition. In this environment the spectator feels a heightened level of performance and choreography.
The architects job becomes hiding the stern directorial qualities of the frame, spectators want that “Christian the lion”-experience, not some depressing Sea World orca.

Observation and experience are the key elements of the cage. What spectators see and how that makes them feel.

“Historically speaking, the cage lies at the intersection of several customs and cultures that placed great importance on observing, collecting and then exhibiting other people and other things, meaning foreign people and animals. Human history shows us that there is only a very small gap between seeing, the ‘scientific’ observation of other people, and domination, even appropriation and exhibition.”
Michel Dewilde, The Caged Gaze,, 2014, p. 2

A cage works as a barricade, separating two adversary sides. It enables them to communicate. It’s a base for conversations to take place. A cage designer creates consensus between the animal, the cage and the observer. The animal must feel happy with the cage or the equilibrium breaks. Either on behalf of the animal dying or escaping, or on the side of the human freeing it from its captors. The cage should not be constructed in a way that it lures the spectator into zootopian thinking, that will be the end of the animal. And the observer should not feel as a part of the bigger spectacle of the zoo.

Cage as a barricade — making room for novelty, communication.

The cage wall is transformed from a line between animal and human, to a space and a stage for enactment. In proportion to the subordination, the cage wall exponentially becomes a space. In the zootopia there are no walls, total subordination and no conversation.

Filip Mayer

Martin Kohout_exhibition view01  Martin Kohout_exhibition view03  Martin Kohout_exhibition view05 Martin Kohout_exhibition view06 Martin Kohout_exhibition view07 Martin Kohout_exhibition view08 Martin Kohout_exhibition view09 Martin Kohout_exhibition view10 Martin Kohout_exhibition view11 Martin Kohout_exhibition view12 Martin Kohout_exhibition view13




Dear Muell,
as you have been informed by our system, your invoice was due last Tuesday.
We provide our services with devotion, precision and respect to our customers. We have never failed you in the past and we hope this relationship can continue into the future.
But before saying how offended we feel about your reluctance to pay the bill, let me ex¬plain you something.
I started my career at the scanning department and you were my first regular custom¬er. Therefore, I recall you well. I was scanning all your ceramics, small family sculp¬tures, bed sheets, writing tools and some pieces of furniture. I was noticing many of the wears coming up in consequent scannings. I sort of had the idea I can understand what sort of person you were from the way you treated your things and how often you asked the company to reprint and deliver them for you. And how often you asked the company to scan, archive and destroy them for you. But with this idea of you, it seems I was wrong. Because why don’t you pay?
Every time we were reprinting your objects, I played this little memory game with my¬self. I was trying to recall all the differences between the last two scans. My goal was to understand what you were doing with the things and to slowly learn what sort of person you were when I though of you. Your objects were never important to me as a single piece alone. I have been studying the history of their changes, presence and absence. Of their printing, scanning, dumping and reprinting. And so it only makes sense when I arrange your things side-by-side, version by version. That’s where I’m getting the complete picture. And all this I did with great care you didn’t seem to appreciate. Like that one time your favourite plate broke and you asked the company to reprint it from a way old scan… and hey I still had that one version ready for you. Just so that you know. I started stealing the objects before they were destroyed. I stored them in a hangar I rented far away from town where the sun never sets and only few birds ever sing. Those objects that were already destroyed in the past, I just stole the scanned data and printed everything again. But then when you upgraded to our business service and demanded my colleagues destroy your stuff in front of you. U really drove me up the wall. But hey I still loved you, so I kept sort of calm for u. I even rented my own printer since people started asking what I was doing. And you might not realise this, but owning one without a registration is not legal.
And now, What do u mean Not paying?!
Ur stuff is all over the fucking place, cos the hangar got too expensive so I had to change to storing-is-sharingTeamWork and now oh ur shit is all over the place. Some of it is kept in vans sat between vacations. Some at a sealed subway station. And other at an ice-cream shop that’s waiting for the spring to come. Some of the smaller stuff is kept in multiple suitcases belonging to these idiotic people who thought a holiday here is fun. And nobody told them they’re wrong so they rented out cheap spaces in the walls of their suitcases crushing with tacky souvenirs, dirty underwear and stolen shampoo from the hotel. Tell me a street in this town and I’m sure there’s something from the catalogue of ur crap just around the corner in a box with my name on it. And listen, there is a shitload of ur stuff stored by the people living in your building too. So WTF u Won’t pay?
I need to keep my job to keep paying all the other people storing and moving ur stuff for me. I won’t ever use the service of my own employer and just dump the shit like you do. And so hey, just think about it. Sleep on it. Give it a chance. Every time you use the ‘one’, the very ‘only’, crappy copy of a thing, and then don’t need it for a week. And then request us to come and scan and crash it till u reneed it. Then when I fucking print this thing afterwards again and I get it stored by some addict for extra cash. All the time you don’t use it I stare at its tracking history.
Since you won’t pay the bill, shall I like take a truck and load it with all the copies of the rubbish ur mom gave u when u were like 11-year-old version of urself and then like drop it on your head so u crack from head to toes? And sort of there is no scan of you alive, you jelly. Just call us and say ur sorry. Just pay and all’ll be fine and safe and sound.

Get ur shit together dear Muell.
Hugs & Kisses



All images © Martin Polak

Dear Muell, 2015, Audio recording with the impersonator Roland Meijer Drees reading an original text in the voice of Sir David Attemborough.
Fallout Original Soundtrack, 2015, Series of cages with crickets.
Bug session, 2015, Video, no sound. (only on website
In Conversation, 2015, Text by Filip Mayer.

13. 11. 2015 – 9. 1. 2016