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sir denys lasdun

The grand old man of British architecture died last week aged 86. Here Edward Cullinan pays tribute to one of the few greats of the twentieth century whose works remain a legacy of his complexity and brilliance

My love for Lasdun sprang from three deep wells: as a man, a family man and a social being I loved his difficult self; as an architect I loved, admired and was inspired by his hard won work - I was inspired by working with him, too; and, as a figure with a certain position in a certain period in the development of architecture in Britain, as a very serious defender of the faith, I loved his great achievement.

I first met him when he came to teach us while we were doing housing projects in the fourth year at the Architectural Association in 1956. He was too one-eyed to be a great teacher in the pastoral sense, but as a teacher by example he was unsurpassed. He and his office had just finished the Hallfield Estate in Paddington, London, which shines brightly to this day, and has nestling within it the Hallfield Primary School, which has one of the sweetest plans ever drawn: a plan which develops certain positively lovely formal interconnections previously examined by Berthold Lubetkin with whom he had worked. He was designing the Keeling cluster block in Bethnal Green, east London; the first one ever and the best, now being restored, thank God.

I worked with him for two periods: first in 1958; and then for five years between 1962 and 1967. The fact that it was not always a peaceful relationship was a measure of his extreme, passionate, nervous commitment to what we were up to doing. I am sure he wasted no time wondering how to relate; instead he spent his energy wondering how the hell to compose the buildings we were doing. I regard the ziggurat student rooms at the University of East Anglia that I did with him as a lesson from him to me in threedimensional composition, and as a lesson in how much you need to do to do anything halfway adequately well, a lesson that has lasted me through life.

The National Theatre in London is well known, a calm composed layering of strata enclosing powerful active welcoming foyers: but Lasdun's best work is the Royal College of Physicians, designed in the 1950s; the finest three-dimensional work of art in the Cubist tradition in these islands, and amazingly and wonderfully contributing through balanced contrast to its historic setting in London's Regent's Park at the same time.

Sir Denys Lasdun was one of the few great architects of the twentieth century, a totally worthy successor to his mentors Wells Coates and then Lubetkin, who himself succeeded the Russian Moisei Ginzburg.

Whether or not he was properly recognised while practicing in these islands I know not, but that he was fondly recognised as the grand old man of British architecture in later years is most surely the case.

Susan and Denys and Rosalind and I became good friends; we were about to dine together when he went into hospital, we were about to see him when he died. I miss him terribly for all the reasons I have talked about here and for many more, but he will live forever for those very reasons. Susan and Louisa and James and William and all of you who read this, remember with me his complex greatness. It will help us all.

A lifetime in architecture

1914 Born in London to a construction professional and a musician. Later goes to Rugby School.

1932 Architectural Association. Designs first schemes, including Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead with Wells Coates.

1937 Joins Berthold Lubetkin at Tecton and works on Highpoint and the Finsbury Leisure Centre in London.

1949-1959 In partnership with Lindsey Drake.

Housing schemes include the Bethnal Green cluster block, Keeling House, which in 1993 became the first listed high-rise housing.

Marries Susan Bendit (1954).

1959 Sets up his own practice and designs the Royal College of Physicians in Regent's Park.

1962 Designs University of East Anglia, Norwich.

1965 Works on scheme for University of London redevelopment.

1967 Designs National Theatre, described by Lasdun as 'like geological strata', but by the Prince of Wales as 'a nuclear power station'.

1973 Builds European Investment Bank, Luxembourg.

1976 Knighted.

1977 Awarded RIBA Royal Gold Medal.

2001 Dies of pneumonia.

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