Happy Birthday National Theatre!

Life begins at 40 today for Denys Lasdun's masterpiece, featured in our new architecture book This Brutal World
Denys Lasdun's National Theatre, London
Denys Lasdun's National Theatre, London

One of London’s most iconic brutalist masterpieces - The National Theatre on London’s South Bank - is 40 years old today. Staff moved into the building and it’s first theatre, the Lyttleton opened on this day in 1976.  The building, designed by British architect Denys Lasdun is featured in Peter Chadwick’s forthcoming book, This Brutal World.

Lasdun was an unusual choice in that he had never designed a theatre before, yet the building’s requirements called for three very differing theatre spaces. Furthermore, he appeared in front of the deciding committee  solo, without a team of any kind, but won them over apparently with his belief that “the essence of designing a theatre is a spiritual one.”

The actor and committe member Laurence Olivier later wrote, “We all fell for that! We knew we’d got by far the most suitable man and probably the most brilliant man in England.”


Denys Lasdun
Denys Lasdun

The chosen site of the building, a place on the Thames called King’s Reach, was described as by Lasdun as “the most beautiful in London”. The relationship of the site with it’s views of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s towers at Westminster Abbey, Somerset House and St Paul’s Cathedral suggested a triangular geometry to the architect which he incorporated into every angle of the building which, liked or loathed (like much brutal architecture) has became part of the architctural fabric of London.

You can see more of Lasdun’s National Theatre in Peter Chadwick's This Brutal World, and read more about it William Curtis's peerless and beautifully written architectural overview Modern Architecture since 1900.

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