Owen Luder, the 'commercially astute Brutalist' architect, passes away at 93

STIR pays tribute to Owen Luder CBE (1928-2021), one of the key figures in the post war modernist movement, known for his flamboyant yet long elusive, British brutalist buildings.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Oct 13, 2021

Late British architect Harold Owen Luder CBE could arguably fit in the category of the most 'brutal' of UK's brutalist architects. Luder - the driving force behind the now demolished Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth and the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead - passed away at the age of 93 on October 08, 2021. He served as the chairman of the Architects Registration Board and was twice the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, from 1981 to 1983 and 1995 to 1997.

16 Grand Avenue, Hove. Designed by the Owen Luder Partnership in 1965| Owen Luder | UK | STIRworld
16 Grand Avenue, Hove. Designed by the Owen Luder Partnership in 1965 Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As someone who faced appreciation and criticism in nearly equal measure throughout his career, Luder’s post war modernist and brutalist works from the 1960s and 1970s – some of which have long since been demolished and others anticipate a similar fate – have previously been cited as structures that were too advanced for their time. Concrete forms stripped of any cladding, his masterpieces combined stark brutal lines and soft sensual curves, and featured zigzagging staircases, horizontal layers, and orthogonal towers.

  • Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth by Luder; the building was demolished in 2010 | Owen Luder | UK | STIRworld
    Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth by Luder; the building was demolished in 2010 Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • The building was characterised by its stark concrete form | Owen Luder | UK | STIRworld
    The building of the Tricorn Centre was characterised by its stark concrete form Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Founder of the Owen Luder Partnership – an architectural practice that he established in 1957, Luder together with protégé Rodney Gordon went on to conceive some of the firm's most defining works. Amongst these is the multipurpose shopping complex Tricorn Centre, which was constructed by the duo in the mid-1960s in UK’s Portsmouth, Hampshire. Home to the first Virgin megastores, the building quickly gained popularity for its stark sculptural geometry and for the shape of its site which looked like a tricorn hat from the air. The beauty of the architecture that announced a forward-looking future of Portsmouth, however it could not surpass its criticism. From the label of Britain’s third ugliest building voted by Radio 4 listeners in 2001, to the description of 'a mildewed lump of elephant droppings' by none other than Prince Charles, Tricorn Centre was demolished in 2010.

Another best-known work by Luder that made headlines leading to its razing was Gatehead’s Trinity Square development – a multi-storey car park that featured in 1971 thriller Get Carter in which actor Michael Caine is seen throwing one of his rivals from its top storey.

South London Theatre, a community theatre housed in a former fire station, designed by Owen Luder | Owen Luder | UK | STIRworld
South London Theatre, a community theatre housed in a former fire station, designed by Owen Luder Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

RIBA President Simon Allford remembers Luder as the “commercially astute Brutalist” whose life was “long and well lived – dedicated to his family, friends, the profession and his beloved Arsenal FC”. In a press statement, Allford writes: “A South London boy with working class parents, Luder began his esteemed career at Brixton School of Building. In 1957 he went on to establish his own successful practice, developing schemes across the UK and further afield. […] Luder will be remembered for his powerful and raw schemes that were celebrated in critically-acclaimed movies (‘Get Carter’ featuring Gateshead Car Park) and – in the case of the Tricorn Centre – celebrated and demolished!”

Deemed elusive for decades, it’s been said that Luder’s works may now have only been fully understood. Some of his last remaining projects include conversion of a Victorian fire station into the South London Theatre, the Eros House in London, and a series of small houses in the city’s borough of Lambeth. His other projects are spread in various parts of the UK, Nigeria, and USA.

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