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Monday28 July 2014

Haworth Tompkins’ National Theatre plans hit last-minute objections

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Denys Lasdun’s widow has lodged a last-minute objection to Haworth Tompkins’ £70 million plans to renovate the National Theatre.

While broadly positive about the scheme, Susan Lasdun is concerned the practice is missing an opportunity to restore key features of the original project, including the entrance and the Lyttelton lobby’s “cathedral glazing”.

She said: “I feel yet another comprise on the entrance is scarcely justifiable nor necessary.”

She is supported by critic William Curtis and six architects who worked on the grade II* listed theatre on London’s South Bank, including Brian Perry who likened the new building to a branch of Tesco.

The so-called Lasdun Group has worked closely with the theatre for more than three years and welcomes most of Haworth Tompkins’ plans which are due to be decided by Lambeth’s planning committee tonight.

The proposals include reinstating the entrance’s original orientation and removing the bookshop that Stanton Williams introduced as part of an earlier remodelling.

But the group objects strongly to plans to build a semi-glazed scenery workshop on Upper Ground, the street running behind the theatre to the south, arguing that it would  “permanently damage” the original building.

Perry, who was joint job architect in the latter design stages of the theatre, said if something this “gross” had come out of Lasdun’s office it would have gone straight back to the drawing board. He urged councillors to ignore their officers’ recommendations and reject the extension.

“They have not tried hard enough,” he said. “If you saw a building with lots of vertical lines, glazing and coloured panels you could say, ‘I’ve seen it before everywhere: on the high street, at Tesco’. This is trying to denigrate the National Theatre.”

In a speech due to be read to Lambeth Council, his former colleague Gordon Forbes described it as “clad in the latest combination of glass and aluminium, in an architectural idiom totally alien to either the National Theatre or to its surroundings”.

But Cabe and English Heritage back the new plans with EH describing the extension as a “well-considered response”.

Haworth Tompkins would not comment but the practice has previously argued the workshop extension is necessary to accommodate backstage functions, and will provide a point of interest for passers-by who will be able to watch scenery being constructed.

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