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Exhibition of Lasdun’s work opens at Royal College of Physicians

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Denys Lasdun’s Royal College of Physicians is hosting an exhibition on the development of the Grade I-listed building as it celebrates its 50th anniversary

The exhibition includes photographs taken of the Brutalist Royal College of Physicians (RCP) during construction from 1961-1964, as well as letters, models and early sketches.

According to Sarah Backhouse, exhibitions co-ordinator at the RCP, the models and sketches were particularly interesting and gave an insight into Lasdun’s design process, as he preferred ‘expressionistic sketches’ to ‘precise architectural drawings’.

‘Some of Lasdun’s practices were quite unusual,’ says Backhouse. ‘He would convey his ideas in rough, expressionistic sketches which his team would interpret. He also worked closely with his model-making team, whose models would help to develop his ideas, rather than simply creating a model of the final design.’

Denys Lasdun with his model maker Philip Wood. Image: RIBA

Denys Lasdun with his model maker Philip Wood. Image: RIBA

Lasdun developed his designs for the RCP after a long period of consultation, which involved attending dinners and watching physicians at work in their old building, all of which informed his final design.

During this period he kept memoranda of conversations he had with stakeholders and their reactions to his designs, and some of these notes, owned by the RIBA, have been loaned to the RCP for the exhibition.

In one memorandum, following a meeting in May 1960, Lasdun writes of the building committee’s ‘fascination’ with a model, which he notes ‘had arrived with the paint still wet’. He adds that ‘the more enlightened members could see the quality of the building, although all comments were extremely guarded and cautious’.

Further notes highlight the comments of individual members of the committee. Some were very positive, with certain members coming out ‘strongly in favour of the whole project’ while the president ‘thought the general proportions of the whole scheme excellent’.

Other members were less keen on the designs; a certain Leonard Wolfson ‘disliked the roof of the lecture hall, and thought the link with the building in St Andrew’s Place was aesthetically bad’ (Lasdun notes that Wolfson ‘was asked if he realised that you cannot see roofs from the ground’). Lasdun also notes that he was told Kenneth Robinson, MP for St Pancras North ‘would go out of his way to oppose this building’.

The central staircase of the Royal College of Physicians during construction. Image: RIBA

The central staircase of the Royal College of Physicians during construction. Image: RIBA

The exhibition also contains models of other works by Lasdun including Keeling House in Bethnal Green, east London; New Court student accommodation at Christ’s College Cambridge; and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London.

Another model depicts Lasdun’s unrealised early plans for the National Theatre, a structure that would have contained five auditoria rather than three and would have been located close the Shell Centre, to the west of the current site.

Exhibition:

The Anatomy of a Building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians
Until 13 February 2015
Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, London NW1

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