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Rowan Moore: ‘Lasdun showed you could compose a building like a piece of music’

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Rowan Moore has spoken of the ‘daring risks’ Denys Lasdun took in his designs for the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in Regent’s Park, London.

‘It was incredibly daring to create a Modernist building like [the RCP] in among the Nash terraces of Regent’s Park,’ said Moore. ‘But there was also lots of creative daring in the curved brick, in the designs for this upside-down ziggurat, you’re not sure where these ideas came from.’

Speaking at the Grade I-listed RCP at the launch of his book Anatomy of a Building, commissioned as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the building, Moore added: ‘Lasdun had an idea of architectural composition, the idea that you could compose a building like a piece of music or a novel which you very rarely see in contemporary architecture.’

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

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

According to Moore, the RCP – which was completed in 1964 – marked a move by the college to become more publically engaged. ‘Soon after the building opened, the college decided to have its first public press conference, on a report on the effects of smoking,’ said Moore. ‘Before, the college had been very “clubby” and insular, but the president at the time decided that the college had to be more open, and Lasdun’s designs for the college are part of that process.’

Moore compared the RCP to Lasdun’s designs for Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, completed one year earlier, which he said was ‘also adventurous’ but ‘not as successful as the Royal College’.

When asked how well the RCP compared to today’s buildings, Moore said: ‘On points such as accessibility and sustainability, [the RCP] may not match today’s standards, but those weren’t the concerns of the day. Apart from that, the Royal College stands up strongly against contemporary buildings.’

Moore added: ‘Lasdun had a cultural breadth. He liked all the arts. He could be difficult, but he could not have achieved what he did without being difficult.’




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