Category Archives: Lasdun, Denys

Against this I raise my sword-spraycan

Heygate Estate, Walworth. Tim Tinker, 1974

Heygate Estate, Walworth, London. Tim Tinker, 1974

Enemies of Corbusian profanation do not hesitate to act

Whole acres, writes Dalrymple, of man-made surfaces are disfigured in Europe by graffiti,

in which some people, ever on the lookout for something counter-intuitive to say, claim to have found art. This is the tribute money pays to poverty without having to part with anything.

The need to assert (rather than express) oneself in some way, no matter how pointless, becomes imperative in a society in which

  • we are all called upon to be unique individuals
  • celebrity has an exaggerated importance in the mental economy of so many
  • employment is often precarious and is felt to be without dignity
  • powerlessness is obvious (powerlessness in a democracy is more humiliating than powerlessness in a tyranny)
Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Taggers tend to deface

ugly surfaces, often of inhuman size, in which modern urban spaces are so richly, or impoverishingly, supplied. It is true that tagging never improves those surfaces, but they are often in themselves of degrading hideousness.

The epidemiology of graffiti

suggests a subliminal aesthetic criticism. It is a commentary on the kind of building and concrete surface that the fascist modernist architect, Le Corbusier, extolled and desired, with the enthusiasm of a revivalist evangelical, to spread throughout the whole world. In a sense, taggers in England and France are endowed with taste.

Having said that, in Italy or Portugal,

18th-century buildings are not exempted from the attentions of bruised and inflamed young egos.

Little love for Lasdun

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Denys Lasdun: apartments

Dalrymple does not have much time for Denys Lasdun (1914-2001):

I doubt whether a worse architect…has ever lived. To design uglier buildings than his would be a stimulant to the imagination worthy of a prize competition.

Lasdun loved concrete, and

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Denys Lasdun: theatre

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Denys Lasdun: college

his designs were as dehumanising as any dictator’s decree….Dehumanising cities with hideous concrete buildings is bad. One suspects a generalised or epidemic spiritual sickness….Architects of Lasdun’s times mistook destruction for creation….Bad buildings are…noxious…but inescapable. An author has a right to his badness, but not an architect.

Dalrymple suspects that those who claim to like Lasdun apply

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Denys Lasdun: offices

extra-aesthetic considerations, such as that they were at the cutting edge in the way Lister was at the cutting edge of the surgery of his time. They indulge also in an architectural variant of Macbeth’s logic: that past architectural crimes are so heinous one has to continue them or admit them.