Denys Lasdun was born in 1914 and became one of the most important architects in post-war Britain.
His works have become more widely appreciated in recent years, with 29 listed buildings to his name. The common stylistic ingredients of his later work includes strong horizontals, a bravery in leaving facades without windows, the lack of emphasis given to the entrance and the skilled use of concrete.
Lasdun 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’.
Denys Lasdun visited the United States in 1954, and drew inspiration from public housing when designing the cluster of narrow towers found here. The design 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 had worked with before and after the Second World War.
Lasdun’s 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.
Here Lasdun had 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 as well as skilfully combined modern concrete, blue brick and mosaic with old fabric brought from the College’s earlier buildings.
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 students could get from bed to seminar in five minutes.
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.
The landmark of Lasdun’s career, it was (and still is) both revered and reviled. 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.
Header Image: Royal National Theatre © Historic England Archive DP049533