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A great man

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The death of Sir Denys Lasdun was a gloomy start to 2001. He was the last real link to the pre-war world of British Modernism, representing the home-grown rather than emigre variety. And like other designers of that generation, he could move effortlessly between social and more commercial projects. In many ways, the only difference between his formerly castigated, but now admired, housing at Bethnal Green and the block next to Green Park is the location. Considerable architectural thought and ingenuity went into both (GLC architect Sir Hubert Bennett, who died recently, helped Lasdun to get permission for the latter by organising a perspective drawing toning down the unashamed Modernist design). Lasdun was far from easy to typecast: unlike some of the post-war Modernists, he felt perfectly able to undertake commercial as well as social buildings, producing two interesting office schemes in the City of London which have worn well. A funny and welcome figure at any gathering, Lasdun was a good raconteur. He once described inviting Henry Moore to lunch at his office; during it, Moore began drawing on the habitual white paper tablecloth, and Lasdun began to think he would get an original sketch in return for lunch.

Alas, as Moore stood up to go, he ripped of a great swathe of the paper with his drawings on, screwed them up into a ball and put them in his pocket. 'Goodbye Denys!' Another abiding memory is the photograph of Lasdun leading his company of Royal Engineers during the D-Day landings, addressing the troops and looking for all the world like Olivier in Henry V . It appeared in the good, if small, exhibition at the Royal Academy two years ago. Not long after the photo was taken, a local council was questioning whether the young architect had enough experience to manage a school building project, as Lasdun wryly recalled. We will not see his like again.

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