Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with quick, interesting facts. Denys Lasdun, one of the United Kingdom’s preeminent Brutalists, is our featured architect this month.
Denys Lasdun was born in 1914 London, as the son of a Russian businessman and an acclaimed pianist, Julie Lasdun. Although he did not complete his studies, Lasdun was trained at the Architectural Association in London, where he received an award for a student hostel design. In his early twenties, he traveled to Paris to see the work of an architect he admired, Le Corbusier.
After viewing Corbusier’s work, Lasdun built his first project, a house modeled after Le Corbuier’s open floor plan modular “domino” scheme.
From 1939 to 1945, Lasdun worked for the army constructing airfields. For the few years prior and after returning from war, he was a partner at the radical architecture firm Tecton, led by British Modernist pioneer Berthold Lubetkin. Their work includes multiple British zoos as well as apartment and housing complexes, some of which were commissioned by the government, a first for British Modernist architecture firms.
The Hallfield Estate project, one of Tecton and Lasdun’s most notable housing developments, was reflective of the Brutalist style Lasdun would continue to adopt, using concrete and an angularity that was relatively uncommon at the time. When Tecton closed, Lasdun oversaw the project’s completion.
In the 1950s after founding a firm, Fry, Drew, Drake and Lasdun, he and his partners designed Bethnal Green, another housing development in East London. Previous post-World War II housing had been criticized for its isolating and antisocial design, and Lasdun corrected this by situating units around a central tower to face outside.
As his most notable works, Lasdun built the Royal College of Physicians building in London, followed by the Royal National Theater. The Royal College was reminiscent of Corbusier’s work, with innovative concrete technology and thin supports, to create the illusion that parts of the building appear to be floating in space, all of which is covered in white marble. The Royal National Theater, which also made use of reinforced concrete and linear structures, is known as the preeminent Brutalist structure in London. Opinions on both buildings were divided, with Prince Charles referring to the latter’s concrete facade as a “nuclear power station.”
Although he did not graduate himself, Lasdun contributed his architecture visions to British university campuses, including those at Fitzwilliam College and Cambridge. His striking halls at the University of East Anglia include a building of classrooms and laboratories accessible by outdoor walkways, and a residence hall designed after Mesopotamian structures in which each terraced level is gradually smaller in size.
Lasdun’s Brutalist-style Institute of Education at the University College of London, completed in 1976, proved controversial among residents of the surrounding non-Brutalist buildings who felt the school stuck out. However, it is listed as a Grade II building: “protected structure”in England. The same year, he was knighted, a sign of his importance to the country’s culture.
After recording an oral history of his career with the government's “National Life Stories” archive, he passed away in 2001 at age 86, six decades into a notable career.
“Sir Denys Lasdun,” The Guardian; “Dennis Lasdun,” Wikipedia; “Royal National Theater,” Wikipedia; “Tecton Group,” Wikipedia; “Denys Lasdun Timeline,” 20BedfordWay.com