Sir Denys Louis Lasdun (September 8th 1914 - January 11th 2001) was a British architect. He studied at the Archiectural Association in London. Although its principal, EAA Rowse, was a lifelong influence - along with Maxwell Fry and Berthold Lubetkin - Lasdun left the AA early, without a diploma, to work with Wells Coates, a member of the MARS Group, the intellectual sounding board of modernism. Two years later, he joined Tecton, Lubetkin's practice, on which all modern eyes were turned. Before war put a stop to such things, he built a house, 32 Newton Road, Paddington, strictly following Le Corbusier's domino principle. Later, Ronald Searle bought it and dreamed up the awful girls of St Trinian's there.
From 1939 to 1945, Lasdun served with the Royal Engineers, and was awarded an MBE before returning to Tecton as a partner. When the firm was dissolved in 1947, he set up in practice with Lindsay Drake, and continued to work on a Paddington housing scheme, the Hallfield estate. Links with the London County Council architect's department, a centre of excellence, brought them the commission for Hallfield primary school, on which they were able to demonstrate, they believed for the first time, that a primary school should appear physically as the centre of an area. This was a generation of architects excited by the possibilities offered by reinforced concrete, and powered by social commitment. Next came the chance to build cluster blocks for Bethnal Green, east London. This innovative idea consisted of four 14-storey stacks of flats linked to a central stair and lift tower. It allowed for piecemeal renewal on bombed sites, and and was probably the most interesting built example of Le Corbusier's "streets in the air".
Art and Architecture
Art was endemic in the Lasdun family. His father, an engineer and businessman who died when Denys was only five, was a cousin of the artist Leon Bakst, who worked with the Ballets Russes. His mother was a pianist, so his childhood was spent among music and musicians. He was educated at Rugby school. His marriage to Susan Bendit, in 1954, continued the artistic tradition. She had been at Camberwell art school, and went on to study graphics, and to write. Their honeymoon was spent visiting the classic modern buildings of America. Susan understood the nature and the problems of architecture, and later worked on the interiors and colour of the National Theatre, among other buildings.
Late in the 1950s - and a far cry from Bethnal Green - a stunningly simple block of flats arose overlooking Green Park, in the West End of London, and gracefully took its place between two classical buildings without a single cry of outrage. 26 St James's Place was London's first experience of strata, though the idea had been fermenting in Lasdun's mind for 20 years. He said that "strata express the visual organisation of social spaces in geometrical terms; they recall the streets and squares of the city and contour lines of the hills; and, at a more profound level, they bear witness to the roots of an architectural language inspired by natural geological forms." When fighting his corner against the derangement of strata at the National Theatre, Lasdun claimed, "strata have given the Thames back to London."
The 1950s ended triumphantly for Lasdun with the commission for the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), on a site in the circle of Nash's terraces overlooking Regent's Park, north London. I believe that the prestige of the college, and the honour of designing for such a site, gave this son of Russian Jewry a place he had desired in Britain's establishment - and the Royal Institute of British Architects' 1992 trustees' medal.
Like other architects, Lasdun designed many projects that never got built. Among these is a powerful, geometric design, defined by four pairs of towers, for the ancient site of the Hurvah synagogue in Jerusalem. After Louis Kahn's death in 1974, it looked as though it might go ahead, but this now seems unlikely. The latest, and largest, of the stratified designs is the European Investment Bank, in Luxembourg. The spacious, woodland site has allowed a simpler plan, which may adapt more readily to change than more condensed buildings. At the centre of this cruciform plan is the Water Room, one of the spaces that Lasdun found "entirely satisfactory". William Curtis has the last word on the Luxembourg building: "It reaffirms," he has said, "that it is under statement that makes powerful art." Art of this kind demands a lifetime's dedication of working and thinking.
- The Guardian (January 12th, 2001): Sir Denys Lasdun - Obituary
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