Lasdun: a 'proper' person who chose individualism, not dogma
I was saddened by the news of Sir Denys Lasdun's death. My first discovery of his work was from the Northampton to London bus which cut through Regent's Park past the Royal College of Physicians en route to Victoria. To me this edifice was very new.
After leading a very sheltered life in Northampton, it seemed a beautiful, sculptural box. It clearly displayed the fact that the inside was an extension of the external spirit and was allowed to ooze outward to inform the exterior. As a 17-yearold, already committed to being an architect, I found wonder, excitement and inspiration, which confirmed my choice of career.
The first time I met Sir Denys was in 1980 at Riverside Studios. I was working in the Arts Centre as 'architect in residence' on a new proposal to extend and reanimate this west London venue. At the point of reaching what seemed to me a viable proposal, the trust, headed by Sir Hugh Willet, decided that it would be sensible to 'test run' my ideas with some architects. Simon Lasdun was also a trustee and so, obviously, Sir Denys Lasdun was called in. The early evening arrived. Sir Denys'arrival was preceded by wine and snacks in readiness for the 'examiner'. When he arrived he did not say much. We sat either side of a narrow trestle table and ran through 20 or so drawings of the scheme. As I explained both the practical and sensual delights of my ideas, Sir Denys said not a word. The term 'stony-faced' comes to mind when I recall this gruelling, nerve-racking occasion. I progressed through the presentation, feeling that my comments were trivial and irrelevant. Eventually I reached the end of what I had to say, and nervously looked up toward this silent, stern person, waiting with baited breath for some comment.
A few seconds passed and Sir Denys looked up at me and said: 'Well, I think that's bloody marvellous.' My fears and worries instantly evaporated and half an hour of pleasant questioning and debate followed. Since this event I have always felt affection for Lasdun the person, as well as admiration for Lasdun the architect. Subsequently we enjoyed ourselves at a variety of events, ranging from family weddings, to exhibition openings and the very occasional formal event.
I saw him not only as a great architect but also as a proper person. I use the word 'proper' because I felt no edge to his personality. He said what he thought and was not controlled by any dogma. This I think was reflected in his work. Despite his association with a number of well-known practitioners, he maintained a healthy distance and respect.
It was this individualism that made him such an important architect. The photograph of Sir Denys in front of a heap of apparently discarded, or 'frantic', models in his recent Royal Academy exhibition seemed to sum up a person who could easily abandon his ideas in search of the 'right thing to do'.
The other two architects who were invited to peruse my project were Sir Hugh Casson and Sir Philip Powell. In the Riverside Studios between 1979 and 1981 I also came to meet, and sometimes to know, Peter Gill, Samuel Beckett, Van Morrison, Michael Clarke, Bruce McLean, Percy Harris and many others including Cedric Price. Sir Denys was a part of this loose gathering. All the people associated with this place have gone on to be tremendously influential in their fields. That 'moment' was formative and special, and Sir Denys Lasdun was part of that for me.
His spirit and individuality will continue to be influential, but for us - we will miss him deeply.