AR­CHI­TEC­TURAL ICON ROYAL NA­TIONAL THE­ATRE BY DENYS LAS­DUN

An icon of the Bru­tal­ist move­ment that adds drama to Lon­don’s South Bank

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Style Architecture -

Al­though it is one of the best ex­am­ples of Bru­tal­ist

ar­chi­tec­ture in the UK, the Royal Na­tional The­atre (com­pleted in 1976) has al­ways been con­tro­ver­sial. HRH Prince of Wales – not the big­gest fan of mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture – once de­scribed it as a ‘clever way of build­ing a nu­clear power sta­tion in the mid­dle of Lon­don with­out any­one ob­ject­ing’. How­ever, Bru­tal­ist build­ings and Mod­ernist hous­ing es­tates have been grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years, with con­crete now the ma­te­rial of choice for many con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tects and creatives. Even In­sta­gram­mers have be­come ob­sessed with the look, be­gin­ning a trend for cap­tur­ing the an­gu­lar lines of Bru­tal­ist mas­ter­pieces (fol­low @this­bru­tal­life and @bru­tal_ar­chi­tec­ture for in­spi­ra­tion).

De­signed by Sir Denys Las­dun (1914– 2001), a cham­pion of the Bri­tish Mod­ernist move­ment, the Royal Na­tional The­atre com­plex con­sists of three dif­fer­ent-sized spa­ces, the grand­est be­ing the Olivier The­atre, named after the venue’s first artis­tic direc­tor and leg­endary Os­car­win­ning ac­tor Laurence Olivier. Next in size is the Lyt­tel­ton The­atre, named after the the­atre’s first board chair­man Oliver Lyt­tel­ton, and lastly, the Dorf­man The­atre, ded­i­cated to the renowned phi­lan­thropist and in­vestor Lloyd Dorf­man.

Las­dun’s orig­i­nal in­spi­ra­tion for the build­ing was taken from the grand lay­out of the Pi­azza San Marco in Venice, a his­toric square that he be­lieved was like a pub­lic the­atre, where Vene­tians played out their daily lives. In­cor­po­rat­ing this idea into the de­sign, Las­dun hoped to cre­ate a ‘fourth the­atre’ out of the open foyer, which would con­nect all three au­di­to­ria with a se­ries of open stair­wells, bal­conies, walk­ways and ramps, as well as a large out­door space at the river en­trance for sum­mer per­for­mances and dis­plays.

The de­tail of the build­ing is ex­act­ing: the tex­tured yel­low hues of Water­loo Bridge and Som­er­set House were colour matched and in­cor­po­rated into el­e­ments of the con­crete façade and the struc­ture was de­signed so that it would frame rather than block views of iconic Lon­don build­ings such as St Paul’s Cathe­dral.

Last year, Lon­don-based RIBA award­win­ning ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tice Ha­worth Tomp­kins ren­o­vated many of the the­atre’s in­te­rior spa­ces, in­clud­ing the Olivier The­atre, the foyer lev­els and the fore­court, en­sur­ing that this Bru­tal­ist land­mark will con­tinue to in­spire for many more gen­er­a­tions to come. Ar­chi­tec­ture tours of the build­ing are avail­able, £12.50 per per­son. Up­per Ground, Lon­don SE1 (na­tion­althe­atre.org.uk).

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