6 Buildings Celebrating 100 Years of Denys Lasdun

1. Keeling House, Tower Hamlets, 1957-9

(c) James O.Davies/English Heritage
(c) English Heritage

Denys Lasdun visited the United States in 1954, whose public housing inspired the cluster of narrow towers found here. This uses the same elegant proportions seen in the work of Berthold Lubetkin, one of the leading architects of the Modern Movement in 1930s Britain, who Lasdun worked with before and after the Second World War.

2. 26 St James’s Place, Green Park, Westminster, 1959-60

(c) James O. Davies/English Heritage
(c) English Heritage

His first prestigious work, this luxury block of flats shows the contrasting planes and strong horizontals which are the language of Lasdun’s architecture. It gracefully takes its place alongside an eighteenth-century classical building, but its simple form hides a complex interior inspired by Lasdun’s former master, Wells Coates.

3. Royal College of Physicians, Regent’s Park, 1960-4

(c) James O. Davies/English Heritage
(c) English Heritage

Here Lasdun has reached maturity with a powerful, elegant statement of early 1960s architectural design. He reveals his mastery of planning with an interior set around a great hall used for ceremonial processions and he has skilfully combined modern concrete, blue brick and mosaic with old fabric brought from the College’s earlier buildings. Watch video.

4. University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1964-8

(c) James O. Davies/English Heritage
(c) English Heritage

Lasdun studied this site intensely, both from a helicopter and on foot, seeing the buildings as ‘architectural hills and valleys. From the air, they are like an outcrop of stone. From the ground, they hug the landscape’. He planned for the University to be compact, promising that a student could get from bed to seminar in five minutes.

5. Philips Building, School of Oriental and African Studies, London University 1970-3

(c) James O.Davies/English Heritage
(c) English Heritage

This top-lit hulk of a building gives a sense of containment – making space and giving light for students to study rare books within the secure confines of the library.

6. National Theatre, South Bank, London, 1969-76

(c) James O. Davies/English Heritage
(c) English Heritage

The landmark of Lasdun’s career, it was and still is both criticised and celebrated. Beautifully crafted concrete, created to Lasdun’s precise instructions between knarled planks of wood which have left their impression, form a series of layers, or ‘strata’. These connect performance and circulation spaces, which perfectly encapsulate Lasdun’s thoughts on a visitor’s movements, as they explore their way through a building. 100 years ago today, Denys Lasdun was born. He was perhaps Britain’s most important architect of 1950-1980 and his works are only now becoming more widely appreciated, with 29 listed buildings to his name. The common stylistic ingredients of his later buildings are strong horizontals, a bravery in leaving façades without windows, the lack of emphasis given to the entrance and the skilled use of concrete. Lasdun once said that concrete “can be a beautiful material if it is used in the way its own nature intends it to be used … It is a sort of sculpture… It is not a cosy little material.” Several of his influences have been argued, from Le Corbusier to Frank Lloyd Wright, but it is inarguable that Lasdun deserves recognition for creating his entirely distinctive form of architecture for himself.

2 responses to 6 Buildings Celebrating 100 Years of Denys Lasdun

  1. We are celebrating Denys Lasdun’s centenary at the National Theatre with a free talk (booking required) on Wednesday 24 September, 2.30 – 5pm; speakers include Barnabas Calder from the University of Liverpool, Patrick Dillon of Haworth Tompkins, Rae Smith, theatre designer and Catherine Croft, Director of the Twentieth Century Society: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/discover/learning-events/denys-lasdun-and-the-architecture-of-the-national-theatre Please join us!

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  2. Morgan Evans says:

    This autumn you can discover the extraordinary story of the RCP’s iconic headquarters and it’s architect – Sir Denys Lasdun. The anatomy of a building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians, details the story of how the RCP was designed and built, as well as revealing rarely seen models, drawings, letters and memorabilia from Denys Lasdun’s life.
    The exhibition is open now. You can find out more on our website.

    https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/RCPLasdun

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