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Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape.

Sir Denys Lasdun is the greatest surviving English modernist, and at last we have a monograph worthy of the man.

A partnership in Tecton must have seemed the best possible starting point for an architect who was to make his mark in the post-war years. One might have expected him to continue the direction set by Lubetkin, but we must all be thankful that he did not do so. The later works of Lubetkin were developing in the direction of pattern-making facades and in the '50s Lasdun had the strength to pull himself out of that by returning to the old masters of modern architecture. Just as Richard Rogers has said that he had to 'unlearn Kahn' to find his mature direction, so Lasdun declares he had to unlearn Lubetkin.

Lasdun's development in the '50s was amazing, and the decade ended with the elegance of 28 St. James's Place and the splendour of the Royal College of Physicians. While Lubetkin opted out of architecture, Lasdun created the series of powerful, robust, thoughtful buildings that made him our leading architect. Gone are the pattern-making facades -- although there is a whiff of Highpoint II in the Park elevation of St. James's Place.

Instead of facades we have a three dimensional architecture, with layers stretching out like molten lava as Lasdun learnt the joys of beton brut from late Le Corbusier and the magic of the bold horizontal from Frank Lloyd Wright. Unlike other English Modernists, his post-war design was of far higher quality than his pre-war.

William Curtis's book is a timely reminder of just how great are Lasdun's buildings of the '60s and early '70s -- the University of East Anglia, Christ's College, Cambridge, University of London, National Theatre, European Investment Bank and so on. In retrospect this series of buildings seems truly majestic.

Then came the swing of fashion. From being our greatest architect and at the height of his powers Lasdun found himself, within a few years, virtually without work. Rigorous modernism, particularly in concrete, was out of vogue and Lasdun was marginalised. All that was needed was for the Prince to put the boot in, Tragic is our loss at not having those buildings Lasdun might have built in the '70s and '80s.

William Curtis charts all this with elegance and with fairness. He criticises as well as praises. He tries to make the book an architectural story with little on Lasdun's private life. But it reads as a fine human drama all the same.
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Author:Winter, John
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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