Art and Culture 

Sir Denys Lasdun, 1914-2001

The Optimisn of Geometry

Peter Buchanan 

Stack of National Theatre models

Like many architects held locally in high esteem (as evidenced by his RIBA Royal Gold Medal, knighthood, and the early listing of several buildings as historic monuments), Sir Denys Lasdun (1914-2001), the centenary of whose birth is this year, was less well known abroad. Indeed, despite his individualistic approach and the prominence of two of his best buildings in central London – the Royal College of Physicians overlooking Regents Park and the National Theatre on the Thames – his star might have sunk a bit in the UK too. This is certainly suggested by the degradingly insensitive alterations to the latter building.

Lasdun was neither tall nor tough looking. But behind this seeming softness was the steeliness of firm convictions and resolute determination, both utterly necessary to achieve his exacting standards of design and construction. Nor was he particularly prolific as an architect. But that was probably in part a consequence of the meticulous care that went into each work. Form was of central importance to him, with formal coherence achieved through rigorous resolution of plan geometries. In this, his work is reminiscent of that of Louis Kahn, as was the high quality of concrete (whether cast or precast), although it was Le Corbusier, with his much less-obviously controlled compositions and rougher materials, for whom he frequently expressed admiration... 

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