Goodbye Denys Lasdun

February 13 was, unluckily, the final day of our exhibition The anatomy of a building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians.

The architectural models that took over our Treasures Room and First Floor Gallery have been safely returned to the Royal Institute of British Architect’s outstore in Fulham, and the wonderful pieces of family memorabilia that have been so popular with visitors, including Lasdun’s typewriter and annotated Walter Gropius book (‘Rubbish!’) are now reunited with Lasdun’s family. We are very sad to see them go.

The fortunate thing about putting on an exhibition about a building within the actual building itself, however, is that even when the exhibition has gone, the wonderful architecture still remains. The exhibition highlighted many delightful quirks and crannies in and around our building that you can still come and see today.

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of those three thin columns at the main entrance to the building?

Lasdun never wanted these, and they were only added at the last minute. Lasdun wanted the immense bulk of the Dorchester Library to float out unsupported above the main entrance, held up by 50ft cantilevers extending horizontally into the body of the building, but his engineers insisted additional support was needed. So what is perhaps the most iconic feature of our building was in fact an afterthought.

Lasdun had an enormous budget for designing our building, and he didn’t hold back. Specialist craft workers were brought in to use the highest quality materials for the finish of the building, which included 37 individually designed bricks for the exterior of the Wolfson Theatre (to achieve its characteristic curve), porcelain mosaic tiles specially commissioned from Candiolo, Italy (which give the exterior of the building its lustrous shimmer in the sun), white Sicilian marble imported from Tuscany (for special bling in the Lasdun Hall) and the largest panes of glass that could be manufactured at the time (for spying on the terraces across the garden).

Speaking of windows, the exhibition explored why exactly Lasdun turned his building away from Regent’s Park, with no windows offering a view of it. Apparently, Lasdun considered that our corner of the park had ‘no particular landscape value’, so he created a new courtyard area especially for the physicians that is more protected from the main road. And he didn’t want the physicians to be distracted during important meetings by looking out the window at passers-by.

We also learned what the RCP building committee, the physicians, and our neighbours in Albany St thought of our building. Leonard Wolfson thought the building ‘looked like a battleship’.

Sarah Backhouse

Exhibition coordinator


Find out more about the RCP's library, archive, museum and garden on our weekly blog, and follow @RCPmuseum on Twitter.