- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
- Specialist wikis
Last edited 25 Mar 2021
Designed by Denys Lasdun and completed in 1976, the National Theatre is one of London's best-known Brutalist buildings. It is also one of the most divisive, described by Prince Charles as like "a nuclear power station".
Standing on the South Bank of the Thames, the concrete building is formed by two fly towers rising from layered horizontal terraces cascading to river level. The design was based on Lasdun's ideas for 'architecture as urban landscape.'
Lasdun was appointed as architect on the project in 1963, and although he had no prior experience in theatre design, he persuaded the board of directors and others to let him realise his singular vision.
He described the early design process as being evolutionary in nature, shaped through consultations. His intention was for the strata of the building – with interconnected walkways, split levels and circular stairwells - to merge with the South Bank, making it unclear where the theatre begins and ends.
The construction work was carried out by Sir Robert McAlpine. The rough-cast concrete surface of the theatre’s interior and exterior retains the imprints of the timber planks used as formwork. Lasdun said; "Concrete is a very intractable material, but it can be a beautiful material if it is used in the way its own nature intends it to be used... It is a sort of sculpture that you can only do with reinforced concrete, but you need to work to a certain scale... It is not a cosy little material."
In 1994, just 18 years after the building was completed and opened to the public,it was granted Grade II listing status. Despite this, it has remained a divisive addition to London’s architecture, being revered and derided in equal measure.
However, some opinions have evolved with time. Most notably, with regard to the skateboarders who adopted the terraces and undercrofts as a graffiti-strewn skate park. Often cited as evidence of the theatre’s failed architecture, in 2014-15 it was saved from redevelopment after a successful and high-profile campaign promoted it as being ‘one of the great spaces of London.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
Predictions about adequate post-pandemic IAQ in non-domestic buildings.
Government publishes plans to 'build back greener'.
The contentious nature of claims associated with cladding, fire safety and EWS1 forms.
ECA comments on low-carbon heating systems initiative and Heat and Buildings Strategy.
Cinders and other forms of domestic rubbish created filth but also generated great wealth.
CIC 2050 Group requests input to find out priorities for future industry leaders.
IHBC publishes response to consultation.
Institute applauds funding initiatives but presses for additional retrofit and tax measures.
The switch from analogue to digital has begun.