Swiss architects design new London landmark

The Laban Centre in London can change colour from lime to magenta

The latest landmark by the acclaimed Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, was unveiled in London this week.

This content was published on February 7, 2003 - 18:38

The imposing Franc Laban Dance Centre is the first building in Britain to be entirely designed by the duo, who were also behind the Tate Modern gallery.

The vast SFr54 million ($40 million) centre was officially opened by the British Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell on Wednesday.

The team said the philosophy behind their new creation was similar to that of the Tate Modern.

"We wanted the building to attract people like the Tate does," Herzog told swissinfo. "The building should appear welcoming to the general public and we wanted it reflect the freedom, movement and openness of the people at Laban."

Colour chameleon

The building's curving facades are clad in a revolutionary material - a type of polycarbonate - which changes colour from lime, turquoise and magenta, according to the surrounding light.

"During the day the building absorbs light and, depending on the sunlight, season and time of day, it nearly disintegrates into its surroundings," Herzog explained.

"But at night it acts like a beacon or coloured lantern giving off light. We wanted this to be inspiring and animating for everyone who sees it."


The 7,800m2 building, situated on a site on Deptford Creek, has been designed not only for Laban's 350 dancers, but also to regenerate the surrounding docklands area in south London.

The new facilities include a 300-seat theatre, 13 dance studios, a library, archive and a café bar, which is open to the general public.

The centre will also hold workshops during the evenings and on weekends, so that the local community can benefit from the facilities.

Open plan

Herzog and de Meuron say they designed the interior of the building in the guise of a miniature hill town, complete with streets, courtyards, ponds and glimpses through the rainbow-coloured walls.

The open plan layout is in line with the ideas of Rudolf Laban (1879-1958), one of the founding members of the contemporary dance movement, who believed that dance should be for everyone.

Herzog and de Meuron, both born in Basel in 1950, won an international architectural competition for the project in 1997.

They were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2001 for their designs for Tate Modern.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Franc Laban Dance Centre in south London cost SFr54 million.
The building's colour changes from lime to magenta according to the sunlight.
It was conceived by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who won international acclaim for their design of the Tate Modern gallery, also in London.

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