National Theatre: Brutalist Architecture

With a notoriously contentious brutalist appearance, the National Theatre stands on the South Bank of the Thames, next to Waterloo bridge. Completed in 1976. Internally and externally, the rough-cast concrete surface of the National Theatre shows the imprint of the sawn wooden planks used in the casting process, which were supposedly each only used twice, once on each side.

Architect Denys Lasdun

Denys Lasdun was appointed as architect to the project in 1963. With no previous experience in theatre design, he persuaded the board of theatre directors, designers and technical experts to give him the job without a team alongside him but with the drama of a solo-performance.

Most of the architects came in groups with their partners… but very theatrically, Denys Lasdun arrived entirely alone” said Laurence Olivier, former director of the National Theatre.

Mixed Reviews

Architectural opinion was split at the time of construction. Most notoriously, Prince Charles described the building in 1988 as “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”.

Sir John Betjeman, said “It is a lovely work and so good from so many angles“.

Love it or Hate it

Despite the controversy, the theatre has been a Grade II* listed building since 1994. It is now in the unusual situation of having appeared simultaneously in the top ten “most popular” and “most hated” London buildings in opinion surveys. In 2001 a Radio Times poll featured Denys Lasdun’s building in the top five of both the most hated and the most loved British buildings.

The Barbican: Brutalist Architecture

The Barbican estate was built between 1965 and 1976, on a 35-acre site that had been bombed in World War II. The complex was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, whose first work was the ground-breaking Golden Lane Estate immediately north of the Barbican. The Barbican Redevelopment Scheme was a project of staggering scale and complexity. It took nearly three decades to design and build; involved the design of over 2,000 flats, two schools and an arts centre; it required the realignment of an Underground line and the excavation of 190,000 m³ of soil and at its peak employed a thousand workers.

The Grade II listed Barbican Complex is a success story of brutalist architecture. Unlike Robin Hood Gardens, which has been neglected to the point of demolition, the Barbican has a mix of private and social housing and apparently huge maintenance fees to pay for the upkeep.

The appeal of the area is in a great part due to the recent soft replanting giving a more luscious effect to contrast with the hard structures. Quoting from the planting designer Nigel Dunnett’s excellent website:

The concept for The Barbican plantings is to create continuous and successive waves of colour over long periods of time, through orchestrating a series of dramatic colour washes over the entire site, from spring through to late autumn, and then to finish off the year with a textural array of seeds heads, plant structures and foliage.  Although the plantings are very diverse, at any one time it is only two or three plant species that create the main flowering display.  But these species are repeated over the whole area, creating maximum impact.  I plant in layers so that one set of plants grows up and though the preceding set of plants, leading to that continuous succession.  Naturalistic swathes of perennials and grasses are framed and contained within clumps, groupings and scatterings of multi-stemmed trees and shrubs to give solidity, and a three-dimensional framework throughout the year…

For more details visit

References:, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, Wikipedia, Nigel Dunnett.

Liege Guillemins Station by Santiago Calatrava

Early Morning
Evening and Night Time

In 1996, Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish architect and engineer, won the competition to create a new high speed train station in Liege, Belgium. Replacing the Liege Guillemins station dating back to 1958. Calatrava’s solution uses one gigantic arched roof 160 metres long and 32 metres high. Below the platform level is an arcade of shops and facilities with the feeling of being inside a whale. This level is lit from above by glass bricks seen at platform level.

Liege Guillemins Construction

The station is made of steel, glass and smooth white concrete. The station had to be kept open for the entire period of the build, so it took over ten years to build, finally opening in September 2009.

Linking Areas of the City

The new station bridges two parts of the city, previously split by the railway tracks. As the station is always open, it is possible to walk straight through to the hilly area of the city. Here Calatrava uses stunning high vaulted cathedral-like arches – reminiscent of the Gaudi’s Casa Milà interiors in Barcelona.

Fully Accessible

Each area of the station is served by: stairs, escalators, lifts and even shallow-angled moving walkways.

Architectural Photography

I have split up the photographs into three different slideshows: daytime, evening-night time and early morning. I used two different lenses a 28-300mm and a 14-24mm wide-angle.

  • Christo’s Mastaba Sculpture on the Serpentine

    Christo Mastaba Serpentine WaltonCreative
  • Christo Mastaba Serpentine WaltonCreative
  • Christo Mastaba Serpentine WaltonCreative
  • Christo Mastaba Serpentine WaltonCreative
  • Christo Mastaba Serpentine WaltonCreative

Christo’s Mastaba Sculpture on the Serpentine

Christo’s and his late wife Jeanne-Claude are well known for their ambitious, large-scale works of art, including the Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin and the Surrounded Islands, in Florida.

His latest project, Mastaba is made of 7,506 oil barrels stacked in a floating scaffolding framework in the middle of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. The structure is 20 metres tall and is made of red and white striped barrels with different coloured tops and bottoms in red, blue and mauve.

There is a detailed exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery where you can see their ideas progress. From simply piling up the barrels in a narrow street in Paris, to a gigantic structure of  millions of barrels proposed for the desert in Abu Dhabi.

The main problems with taking these shots – apart from finding a good viewpoint – was the position of the sun and all the boats! I worked out which angle would be best for the light, then had to just wait, and wait, until there was a few seconds when no boats were in front of the sculpture. For some of the shots the single boat helped with the scale, so have used these too.

Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, by Architect Frank Gehry

Appearing to look very similar to The Guggenheim in Bilbao (opened in 1997), The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles opened in 2003. The concert hall has been praised for its acoustics and has seating for 2,265 people.

Walt Disney Concert Hall Initiated in 1987

The project was initiated in 1987 by Lillian Disney with a donation of $50 million. Frank Gehry’s completed designs were delivered in 1991. So in fact the Walt Disney Concert Hall was initiated before The Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Building Started with the Car Park

Nearly a third of the cost of the building went on the underground car park which cost $110 million. The aim was to recoup the costs by charging for parking spaces.

Reflection Problems

Like the Walkie Talkie building in London there was a problem with reflective concave surfaces concentrating light. In London, cars parked near the Walkie Talkie building (properly named 20 Fenchurch) were being damaged by the concentrated light due to the shape of the building. In the Walt Disney Concert Hall certain parts of the building were covered in polished mirror-like stainless steel panels which caused heat in nearby homes and even the pavements to get to  60°C. It was thought that the blinding light could cause accidents too. Following complaints it was decided in 2005 to sand the mirror finished areas to dull them down.

Dusseldorf: Derelict Steel Works Photography

Number one on my list of highlights on a recent visit to Dusseldorf was this derelict Thyssenkrupp steel works in Duisburg, shot in the rain.

I find old industrial buildings and machinery fascinating and often brutally beautiful. The rain brought out the incredible colours of the rusting steel and peeling paint. I think the different processes of the plant were painted different colours. Huge yellow-painted pipes would connect to a panel of red-, blue-, and green-painted controls.

The location would be an amazing backdrop to a Wagnerian opera or Shakespeare play. It reminded me of the 1927 Fritz Lang film Metropolis. The industrial scenes were a foretaste of things to come.

I find it tragic how most of our own British industrial heritage has either been obliterated, or sanitised so much that with the addition of a tea shop, they could be opened by the National Trust. Why has beautiful Battersea Power Station been gutted and surrounded by towering blocks of yet more executive housing?

Copyright © WaltonCreative