The Laban Centre (2003)






The Laban Centre is a school of contemporary dance based in south London. The colourful transparent building designed by Herzog & de Meuron was intended to show off the dancers’ silhouettes and to glow when lit up at night. It also gave Deptford a significant and beautiful new landmark.

At the heart of the building is a 300-seat theatre and on the lower level, offices, a library and a cafeteria. Studio spaces of different shapes, sizes and colours are on the upper level. The architects collaborated with the artist Michael Craig-Martin to select the palette of colours used for the panels. Mounted in front of the glass, the panels serve as a protective sun shield, improving the building’s energy efficiency and are objects of beauty in their own right.

The building is inventive in the way that its form reveals the choreography of movement. The public spaces are full of wit – exemplified in detail such as the curving handrail, which counters the hard line of the dance studio bar. The extent of innovation in the project is apparent throughout, but never shouted. It is a graceful building, generous in its relationshipwith its context: its reference to St Paul’s Church is geometrically precise, while it is calmly haphazard alongside the meandering of Deptford Creek.

The judges thought this to be an extraordinarily fine building – one that raised the expectations of architecture – in its engagement both with art forms and with the local context. The building made a major contribution to the artistic life of the community while acting as a catalyst for the regeneration of the whole area.

Novelist Julian Barnes summed up the feelings of the Stirling jury: ‘It hits you straight between the eyes as soon as you get there. It has the same movement, youth, agility, pizzazz, front to it that its students have – it’s very seductive. The immediate impact on everyone in the bus as we arrived was to go “wow”’.

Architects: Herzog & de Meuron  
Commission 1998
Completion 2003

The Laban Centre, London, © Dennis GilbertThe Laban Centre, London, © Merlin HendyThe Laban Centre, London, © Will PryceThe Laban Centre, London, © Merlin Hendy & Martin RoseThe Laban Centre, London, © Merlin Hendy & Martin Rose