Home   Architects   Schools   Objects   Library
 

 

 

 

 

 

WORKS / BIOGRAPHY / BOOKS

 

 

DENYS LASDUN
 
 
 
 
  Name   Sir Denys Louis Lasdun
       
  Born   September 8, 1914
       
  Died   January 11, 2001
       
  Nationality   UK
       
  School    
       
  Official website    
     
 
BIOGRAPHY        
   

Denys Lasdun, former president of the Royal Institute of British
Architects (RIBA) and a recipient of its Gold Medal, occupies
a unique place in the history of British Modern architecture. By
virtue of his birth date, his career brackets the introduction and
subsequent (in the 1960s) transformation (but not repudiation)
of Modern architecture in his country. Trained at the Architec-
ture Association from 1931 to 1934, Lasdun immediately allied
himself with the small number of progressive designers in con-
servative Britain who, in the 1930s, sought to plant on English
soil the principles of functionalism, which Lasdun calls “a purify-
ing agent in the architectural process . . . demand[ing] that de-
sign be underpinned by reason and research to produce a sane
and purposeful architecture” (1984).

Already in the 1930s, Lasdun was strongly influenced by Le
Corbusier, who was, despite the arrival in that decade of German
exiles such as Walter Gropius, the major continental master for
British architects. This admiration continued after World War
II, when Lasdun exchanged the purist geometries of the Interna-
tional Style he had briefly embraced (residence in Paddington,
1938, which resembled Le Corbusier's Maison Cook) for the
sculptural massing and weathered concrete surfaces associated
with Brutalism, also inspired to some extent by Le Corbusier's
late work. However, Lasdun did reject the Swiss master’s ideas
on urbanism, which he felt were flawed by the refusal to ac-
knowledge a sense of place and to forge necessary links with
tradition, a critique that was complemented by his concept of the
urban landscape, which held that a building’s fluid and layered
interiors should connect with the space of the city, often through
platforms Or “strate”

On prestigious and less economically stringent institutional
and private commissions, such as the Royal College of Physicians
(1964) and the luxury duplexes on St. James’ Place (1960), Las-
dun incorporated lush granite, travertine, terrazzo, mosaic, and
richly tinted engineering brick along with the textured concrete
to add color and sensuality to the palette of materials. What
binds together all his postwar work is the forceful articulation
of program to create asymmetrical compositions of great com-
plexity in plan, section, and elevation that extend assertively into
the surroundings, whether urban or rural.

His firse significant postwar work, the large primary school
in Paddington, was completed in 1955, when it was named
“Britain’s most modern school.” The commission originally had
come to the British architectural firm Tecton and was done in
collaboration with Lindsey Drake, another former partner of the
firm. The varied spaces that comprise classrooms, administrative
offices, and the auditorium receive vigorous differentiation in
height, shape, materials, and fenestration.

By 1957 Lasdun’s vocabulary had shifted to the boldly
massed, dynamic, and faceted shapes that visually and concep-
tually link his work not only with general postwar developments
in European architecture but also with the English baroque tradi-
tion he explicitly cherished, embodied especially in the work of
Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Lasdun continued his commitment to socially oriented
projects, at that time energetically sponsored by the government
to redress a dramatic housing crisis due to wartime damage. His

14-story “cluster” blocks (1955-59) in Bethnal Green, London,
were considered very innovative and user-friendly; regrettably,
poor maintenance has threatened their continued existence. On
each double-height level, four separate sets of two-story apart-
ments are connected by bridges to a central service core. The
varied orientation of each of the maisonettes affords unusual
privacy to the tenants, and the setbacks of individual facades
from the concrete frame identify the spatial system while provid-
ing balconies and sun relief. The term cluster derives from Kevin
Lynch’s writings; Lasdun in turn popularized the concept in
Britain, where it was used to combat the rigidity of CIAM (Con-
grés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) planning and Le
Corbusier's Ville Radieuse and to emphasize the importance of
context.

One of Lasdun’s most admired buildings is the Royal College
of Physicians in Regent's Park (1964), which won him the Trust-
ees Medal of the RIBA (1992) and has received Grade 1 listing
from English Heritage, a signal honor for a 20th-century work.
‘The need for distinctive public and private rooms, some serving
ceremonial and others professional purposes, was the ideal chal-
lenge for this architect, who revels in clarifying while expressing
intricate multipurpose institutional programs. At the same time,
he took pains to respect the scale and color of John Nash’s
neighboring terraces and to maintain the interplay of nature

and architecture that George IV’s brilliant town planner had
achieved. His faith that the design could be expanded if necessary
without doing damage to the formal coherence of the initial
building was proved justified when he seamlessly added a chapter
house and lecture theater in 1995.

The Royal National Theatre (1963-76) is another triumph
of sophisticated circulation through areas that serve varied func-
tions, although all were intended to enhance the theatrical en-
counter. If its unremittingly severe gray surfaces have been criti-
cized, its bold concrete cantilevers and lively silhouette
eloquently communicate the National Theatre's purpose and
cultural prominence. Lasdun created an impressive theatrical
mecca that knits together without confusion three auditoriums
of diverse sizes and characters, box offices, bookstores, restau-
rants, cafes, and waiting areas where musical performances and
readings take place. In addition, it is an important element in
the cityscape of the South Bank; even those who do not enter
make use of the multilevel walkways that offer enticing river
views and connect pedestrians with Waterloo Bridge. Lasdun
sought through the “strata inside and outside . . . to capture the
fundamental sense of the theatre as a place of gathering and a
framework for the experience of visiting the [National Theatre]
which takes the city itself as a backdrop” (1984).

In a postwar Britain that was dramatically expanding tradi-
tional universities and establishing new ones, Lasdun also played
a highly visible role, For the tabula rasa that was East Anglia
University (1962-72) outside Norwich, he designed a complex
that encompassed housing for students and staff, the library,
lecture theaters, and the University and Senate House, conceiv-
ing the building as “hills and valleys.” He developed his principle
of interlocking spaces and stratified terraces further in the resi-
dences at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1966). For the Univer-
sity of London in Bloomsbury (1965-79), Lasdun prepared a
major extension scheme that includes the Institute of Education
and the School of Oriental and African Studies; its aggressive
massing, bold play of light and shadow, and creation of an aca-
demic square within the embrace of the new buildings make the
work a quintessential expression of Lasdun’s aesthetic.

HELEN SEARING


 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE        
    Born 8 September 1914, London; trained at the Architectural
Association in London (1931-34), and with Wells Coates, the
leading English Modernist (1935-37). Joined the architectural
group Tecton (1937) until its dissolution in 1939. Worked in
conjunction with Lindsey Drake (1949-59); served as a major
in the Royal Engineers, in charge of building the first airfield
used in the Allied invasion on D-Day; served as chairman of
the MARS (Modern Architectural Research) Group. Won the
Trustees Medal of the RIBA (1992) for Royal College of Physi-
cians in Regent’s Park; died 11 January 2001.
 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING        
    BOOKS AVAILABLE TO DOWNLOAD
 
 
 
 
 
 
RELATED
 
 
 

 

 

 

       
 

Architects

Schools

Objects

Library

New Projects

About

Contact

Support us