Since its foundation in 1518, the RCP has had five headquarters in London. The current Grade I listed building in Regent’s Park was designed by architect Sir Denys Lasdun and opened in 1964. Considered a modernist masterpiece, it is one of London’s most important post-war buildings.
Visit us to experience extraordinary historical and ceremonial spaces set inside Lasdun’s radically modern building.
The first headquarters of the College of Physicians were in Knightrider Street, south of St Paul’s Cathedral. The next premises was at nearby Amen Corner in 1614. This building was completely destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London and the RCP was rebuilt in Warwick Lane by 1674. In 1825 the RCP moved again to fashionable Pall Mall East.
In 1958, the RCP bought Someries House in Regent’s Park to be the site of a new headquarters. The house had been designed by architect John Nash (1752–1835), and sustained bomb damage during World War II. The Crown Estate Commissioners had no objection to its demolition, as long as the new building harmonised with the adjoining Nash terraces and villas. Sir Denys Lasdun won the competition to design the new headquarters in 1959.
The Lasdun Building
Our impressive Grade I listed building in Regent’s Park has been home to the RCP since 1964. It is considered to be the most successful creation of renowned architect Sir Denys Lasdun, who was awarded the Trustees Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in recognition of his work.
Background to the RCP’s creation
The RCP had been considering a move for some time when a site at Regent's Park became available. Someries House, a villa designed by architect John Nash (1752–1835) was bomb-damaged in World War II and was acquired by the RCP with permission to demolish it, on the condition that the new building would ‘harmonise’ with its surroundings.
The RCP president then approached Sir John Summerson, curator of the Sir John Soane’s Museum, for advice on finding a suitable architect. He supplied five names, all of whom were interviewed in the Censors Room at the RCP. Denys Lasdun was appointed in 1958 after making it clear in his interview that he would not create a building in the classical style.
He was surprised at being asked to design for such a traditional body, given his modernist philosophy, and he made it clear that he would not create a classical style building. Ultimately he responded to the challenge with a skilful integration of centuries-old traditions and his own vision.
Lasdun spent weeks observing the RCP’s official functions and designed accordingly, paying much attention to the ceremonial and social aspects of RCP life. Instead of asking the physicians ‘what do you want?’ he sought to know ‘what do you do?’ In 1992 Lasdun was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Trustees Medal in recognition of his work at the RCP, considered to be ‘the best architecture of its time anywhere in the world’.
Sir Denys Lasdun
Lasdun studied at the Architectural Association where he became a firm adherent of the modern movement. As a schoolboy he had read Vers un Architecture by Le Corbusier which remained a strong influence throughout his life. In 1937 Lasdun joined with Wells Coates (1895–1958), and Tecton – the progressive architectural group formed by Berthold Lubetkin (1901–1990), designer of the High Point flats in Highgate and the famous penguin pool at London Zoo.
Lasdun established his reputation with a graceful block of duplex flats in St James's Place, facing Green Park. The stratified composition corresponded strongly to the adjoining Palladian façade, avoiding the strong criticism that would be aroused by his later variations on the theme of stratified facades at the National Theatre and the University of East Anglia.
The commission for the Royal College of Physicians came in 1958, and although Lasdun was later to be accused of creating buildings that were insensitive to their surroundings, the importance of history and context in his work are evident in the RCP building. As with the Green Park flats, Lasdun’s modern take on a classical façade allowed the building to harmonise with the adjacent Nash Terraces, as did the colours of the carefully chosen materials.
In 1960 Lasdun set up his own firm and received significant commissions including the creation of a new University at East Anglia, and the National Theatre on London’s South Bank. The later was to become the defining landmark in Lasdun’s career. After receiving bitter criticism it later earned critical acclaim, and today still provokes extremes of opinion. Built in 1962, it was based on Le Corbusier’s ‘domino’ plan of slabs supported by slim columns, becoming a series of stratified layers, connecting auditoria and circulation spaces.
Lasdun was perceived as a defender of the values of the modern movement when both its beliefs and aesthetics were facing severe criticism. His own massive and uncompromising concrete and glass structures often made him the object of such criticism; the Prince of Wales famously declaring in 2001 that the National Theatre was, ‘a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting’.
Lasdun did receive much support and recognition; knighted in 1976, he was awarded the RIBA gold medal for architecture in 1977. Election to the Royal Academy in 1991 was perhaps belated, but in 1997 the academy honoured him with a retrospective exhibition and its architect members have rallied to defend Lasdun’s monumental legacy.