The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Click to see full size. Photo © Sarah J Duncan
Photo © Sarah J Duncan
Photo © Sarah J Duncan

100 Buildings 100 Years

1976: National Theatre, London

Status: Listed Grade II*
Condition: Good condition
Type: Entertainment
Architect: Denys Lasdun & Partners
Owners: Royal National Theatre
Location: Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PX

The National Theatre is the masterpiece of Denys Lasdun & Partners, and has a good claim to be Britain’s finest late-modernist public building. It was commissioned after a protracted, contentious briefing process involving leading English theatre directors including Laurence Olivier and Peter Brook. The fight to get its government funding was tough, and it went on site in 1969 just in time for the strike-ridden 1970s.

By its opening in 1976 its Brutalist style was widely hated, and it was attacked by Prince Charles and others. It is only now emerging from this unfashionability to be recognised as a triumph of sculptural design, humane sublimity, and the highest quality of concrete building-craft. Its free, indoor and outdoor public spaces represent the apogee of the Welfare State’s egalitarian generosity, and preside over a bend in the Thames giving views which (at least above the excessive tree-planting) sweep the London cityscape.

by Barnabas Calder

Listing description

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