The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Shelter from the Storm: Listing bid for Laban Dance Centre

The Laban Centre was designed by Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with artist Michael Craig Martin, winning the Stirling Prize in 2003.

Trinity Laban in Creekside, South East London, is the world’s largest purpose-built centre of contemporary dance, and winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2003. In response to recent proposals for high rise residential developments on immediately adjacent sites in Deptford Creek, C20 Society last year applied for the Centre to be listed, with a recommendation of Grade II*.

After suffering damage to its chromatic cladding during the recent Storm Eunice, C20 has now urged Historic England to revisit our application for listing ahead of any significant repair work, to ensure it is suitably conservation-led. If approved, it would become the youngest listed building in the country and the first post-millennial project on the national register.

The Laban Centre was designed by Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with artist Michael Craig Martin, it was the first completed work in England by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss practice, famous for the Tate Modern and the Beijing Birds Nest Stadium.

By day the building’s semi-translucent glass and coloured polycarbonate cladding allows traces of dance and movement to be visible through the walls. By night, the building becomes a coloured beacon with light and movement spilling out illuminating the surrounding area. The interior is structured as an urban streetscape, designed to provide inspiring spaces which reflect the fluid movements of dance.

‘ a glimpse of the future that’s landed here in London’ – Piers Gough

The Laban Centre has its origins in the 1940’s as the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester, they rebranded as the Laban in 1975 and have been based in South London ever since. After outgrowing a previous site in New Cross, Lambeth Council were eager to keep them based in borough and in 1997 offered a new site in the then rundown area of Creekside, near Deptford. An architectural competition followed (chaired by Zaha Hadid) which resulted in Herzog & de Meuron’s winning scheme, built between 2002 and 2003 at a cost of £14.4 million, with funding coming from regional development grants and Arts Council lottery funding.

The building went on to win the 2003 RIBA Stirling Prize, with the judges praising the Centre as a “significant and beautiful new landmark” and an “extraordinarily fine building that raises the expectations of architecture”. The compere, Piers Gough, described “this glimpse of the future that’s landed here in London, this Modernist rococo – completely and utterly beautiful”.

Damage sustained to cladding on the Laban Centre during the recent Storm Eunice.

Galliard Homes and developer Kitewood received planning consent for the £210m Creekside Village East development in late 2020, with a scheme comprised of 393 homes in two blocks of up to 30 storeys. While the plans do also include provision for a five-storey extension to Laban Centre – with additional performance, rehearsal and studio spaces – C20 feels it’s the right moment to safeguard the future and the setting of this highly significant building, in an area undergoing rapid change.

C20 Society caseworker Coco Whittaker said:

‘The Laban Dance Centre is a beautiful and intelligent building with a wonderfully mutable character which responds to changes in its environment. Its watery panels present various subtle colours as they reflect or omit light, concealing or revealing at different times of day the dancing taking place inside. In this way, its architecture is not static but fantastically performative. We hope that Historic England will agree that the Laban centre is clearly of Grade II* quality.’

‘a beautiful and intelligent building…which responds to changes in its environment’ Coco Whittaker