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.

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