The Architects Journal

Brutalism Dramatised: Studies of The National Theatre Amelia Lancaster’s manipulated images of Denys Lasdun’s South Bank masterpiece are both familiar and unexpected, finds Rob Wilson.

When it comes to architectural photography, Brutalism has been rather over-exposed in recent years and the subject of a stack of coffee table books.

Its graphic forms and textured shapes perfectly illustrate Le Corbusier’s oft-quoted description in Vers une Architecture of architecture as the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled ni the light. Of course, Corb himself was no stranger to using photography to simplify and aestheticise the orthogonal forms of his own buildings.

Amelia Lancaster’s new exhibition of photographs of Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre building, held in the theatre’s second-floor Wolfson Gallery, appears at first sight pretty much in this vein. Trained in architecture and set design, Lancaster has been photographing the South Bank since 2003 and talks of her fascination with ‘the simplicity of the trio of concrete, sunlight and shadows. Some of her works in the exhibition come from her ‘Beautiful Brutalism’ series: moody black and white frames of Lasdun’s ur-Brutalist masterpiece. The images, shot mostly on 35mm film, are closely cropped and zoom into the building’s sun-flecked, boardmarked-concrete textured flanks, which fill the frames, already half abstracting the architecture.

However, the exhibition takes an interesting tack when Lancaster manipulates her photographs to generate two further series of works: ‘Negatives’ and ‘Reduction.

‘Negatives’ inverts the images to create more ghostly, ethereal representations of the architecture’s facets and surfaces. ‘Reduction’, meanwhile, creates abstract geometries by introducing bold primary colours, flattening the image and reducing it to a series of fragmented colours and shapes, influenced, Lancaster says, by the compositions of De Stijl.

As such, the exhibition presents both a meditation on the architecture and the processes of Lancaster’s own practice, but also on the processes of visual perception and how we read and abstract architectural form. Abstractions: Studies of the National Theatre funs until autumn at the National Theatre’s Wolfson Gallery, London SE1. Admission free.