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The physicians’ tonic

It’s 50 this year but Denys Lasdun’s best building shows no signs of age in its celebratory exhibition

The home of the Royal College of Physicians, the favourite building of its architect Denys Lasdun, is 50 this year.

Though criticised by one neighbour as resembling a ‘sausage factory’ when it was completed, it was generally extremely well received by physicians and architectural critics alike and was grade I listed in 1998. Lasdun’s competition-winning design replaced a bomb-damaged Nash building alongside Regent’s Park, becoming the college’s fifth headquarters since its foundation in 1518.

The RCP is celebrating its building’s half century in style, kicking off with an exhibition next month on Lasdun’s career with particular reference to the RCP. Anatomy of a Building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians, will explore Lasdun’s design process, career and personality with the help of drawings, architectural models and memorabilia

‘It’s generally considered to be the best building that Lasdun built in the UK and one of the best by any British architect in the 1960s,’ says curator Sarah Backhouse.

She says that Lasdun spent three months observing the way the RCP used its building – research that led to the inclusion of a long, feature spiral staircase for use as a ceremonial processional route.

Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, admires the building for being both decorous and rebellious. 

‘It exudes dignity and restraint, at the same time as being discreetly fluid and slightly blingy,’ she says.    

The star turn of the exhibition is sure to be the building itself, which is frequently in demand as a film set and conference venue. This anniversary show is a great opportunity to explore it first hand.

Exhibition: Anatomy of a Building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians

8 September 2014 to 13 February 2015, Royal College of Physicians, London.

Conference: Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians – 50 years in Regent’s Park

5 November

Details:www.rcplondon.ac.uk

  • RCP building under construction   Construction work in St Andrews Place began in September 1961, and the RCP building was completed in 1964. This photograph shows the construction of Lasdun’s floating central staircase, one of the most striking aspects of the building’s design.   The prominent white building in the background is part of John Nash’s original terraced scheme for St Andrews Place. This grand house is now part of the Royal College of Physicians
    RCP building under construction Construction work in St Andrews Place began in September 1961, and the RCP building was completed in 1964. This photograph shows the construction of Lasdun’s floating central staircase, one of the most striking aspects of the building’s design. The prominent white building in the background is part of John Nash’s original terraced scheme for St Andrews Place. This grand house is now part of the Royal College of Physicians · Credit: ©Royal College of Physicians
  • RCP construction works   The building’s foundation stone, invisible here beneath the rubble, was laid between the two thin pillars at the front of the building by HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, on 6 March 1962.
    RCP construction works The building’s foundation stone, invisible here beneath the rubble, was laid between the two thin pillars at the front of the building by HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, on 6 March 1962. · Credit: ©Royal College of Physicians
  • RCP construction works   The Wolfson Theatre was a huge engineering challenge for Lasdun’s team. It was designed with twists in its walls to align the building with Regent’s Park and the awkward angle of St Andrews Place.   37 different types of Baggeridge blue engineering bricks were needed to create this effect. Because cut surfaces of bricks have a different texture and colour to fired surfaces, these special bricks had to be hand-cut before they were fired.   Many were rejected as being the wrong texture or colour, and were carried away by Edward Cullinan, a young architect in Lasdun’s office. They were used to pave the floors of his homes in Camden and the North Staffordshire Moors.
    RCP construction works The Wolfson Theatre was a huge engineering challenge for Lasdun’s team. It was designed with twists in its walls to align the building with Regent’s Park and the awkward angle of St Andrews Place. 37 different types of Baggeridge blue engineering bricks were needed to create this effect. Because cut surfaces of bricks have a different texture and colour to fired surfaces, these special bricks had to be hand-cut before they were fired. Many were rejected as being the wrong texture or colour, and were carried away by Edward Cullinan, a young architect in Lasdun’s office. They were used to pave the floors of his homes in Camden and the North Staffordshire Moors. · Credit: ©Royal College of Physicians
  • RCP construction works   Lasdun’s ambitious design for the RCP presented major engineering challenges. He wanted to extend the Dorchester Library outwards, so that it appears to ‘float’ unsupported above the main entrance.   This was achieved through cantilevers (horizontal beams extended into the main building to balance the weight of the library), 49 ft concrete beams, reinforced steel rods, and the three thin pillars at the entrance.   The RCP building is predominantly made of concrete, poured on site into wooden moulds. A lot of steel was used within the concrete, often tightened once the concrete had set but before the moulds were removed, to maximise its strength and help support Lasdun’s large rooms. The rough concrete was then clad in either mosaic tiles and engineering bricks, or left exposed.
    RCP construction works Lasdun’s ambitious design for the RCP presented major engineering challenges. He wanted to extend the Dorchester Library outwards, so that it appears to ‘float’ unsupported above the main entrance. This was achieved through cantilevers (horizontal beams extended into the main building to balance the weight of the library), 49 ft concrete beams, reinforced steel rods, and the three thin pillars at the entrance. The RCP building is predominantly made of concrete, poured on site into wooden moulds. A lot of steel was used within the concrete, often tightened once the concrete had set but before the moulds were removed, to maximise its strength and help support Lasdun’s large rooms. The rough concrete was then clad in either mosaic tiles and engineering bricks, or left exposed. · Credit: ©Royal College of Physicians
  • RCP construction works   Lasdun’s ambitious design for the RCP presented major engineering challenges. He wanted to extend the Dorchester Library outwards, so that it appears to ‘float’ unsupported above the main entrance.   This was achieved through cantilevers (horizontal beams extended into the main building to balance the weight of the library), 49 ft concrete beams, reinforced steel rods, and the three thin pillars at the entrance.   The RCP building is predominantly made of concrete, poured on site into wooden moulds. A lot of steel was used within the concrete, often tightened once the concrete had set but before the moulds were removed, to maximise its strength and help support Lasdun’s large rooms. The rough concrete was then clad in either mosaic tiles and engineering bricks, or left exposed.
    RCP construction works Lasdun’s ambitious design for the RCP presented major engineering challenges. He wanted to extend the Dorchester Library outwards, so that it appears to ‘float’ unsupported above the main entrance. This was achieved through cantilevers (horizontal beams extended into the main building to balance the weight of the library), 49 ft concrete beams, reinforced steel rods, and the three thin pillars at the entrance. The RCP building is predominantly made of concrete, poured on site into wooden moulds. A lot of steel was used within the concrete, often tightened once the concrete had set but before the moulds were removed, to maximise its strength and help support Lasdun’s large rooms. The rough concrete was then clad in either mosaic tiles and engineering bricks, or left exposed. · Credit: ©Royal College of Physicians