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Architects   LASDUN, (SIR) DENYS
Date   1959-1960
Address   26 St James's Place, London, UK
Floor Plan    

A luxury building is still not an easy assignment for an English architect to undertake (maybe this is an aspect of the conscience of the architectural profession that should be nurtured for the common good) since modern architecture here has grown up so closely with progressive politics that non-proletarian housing is still something of a moral embarrassment to us. It's easier, in some ways, for us to build, and criticize, Stirling and Gowan's picturesque, atmospheric and studiedly graceless exercise in working-class re-housing at Preston, than Erie Lyon’s relaxed, eye-soothing  - but middle-class - housing for the various SPAN developments around London. But it may be that the middle is the real problem, not the ends of the social spectrum, for Denys Lasdun has worked with complete conviction at both extremes: his cluster-block slum-clearance housing in Bethnal Green, and his almost overpoweringly luxurious block of skip-level flats down a turning off St. James’s overlooking Green Park.

Lasdun’s success in St. James is basically that he has created luxury in terms of unmistakably modem architecture, and by the architectural means that are peculiar to the Modern Movement. Not fringed drapes and ankle-deep carpets but the basic luxuries of expansive spaces and lavish environmental services. By post-war British standards the spaces are enormous, and in the one-and-a-half storey living rooms one swims, adrift in sheer volume. On the services side, the heating is conspicuously adequate, the kitchens mechanized to the eyebrows and, above all, the sound insulation is of TV-studio quality. It is London’s most comprehensive demonstration of what modern architecture has to offer in the sense of a controlled and euphoric environment, physically and aesthetically satisfying before any stick of furniture or work of art has been installed

Best of all, Lasdun has made the emphasis on space and services the source of expression on the exterior The skip-level section, with its one-and-a-half storey units introducing a contrapuntal rhythm in the stacking of the floors, gives him almost sufficient subtleties of proportion and pattern to be able to do without any further architecture on the exterior: all that is to be seen are the edges of the balconies (which become the spandrels where the windows are up flush with the facade) establishing the main horizontals, and the duets for the services, establishing the main verticals. Such extravagant simplicity needs to be almost offensively well detailed and is. The vertical ducts are built of a rich dark brick as used in engineering, and the balcony fronts have aprons of choice marbles (pieces were sent back, if not choice enough). The windows are carried in bronze frames of conspicuously de luxe specification, and the exposed concrete work of the pent-house structure has been so skillfully poured, into shutterings so carefully built, out of what appears to be planks specially selected for their grain patterns, that shaggy old Brutalistshutter-patterned concrete is transmuted into an exquisite fine-art material.

Banham R. Age of the Masters: A Personal View of Modern Architecture. Harper & Row., 1975. P. 72.

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