Buildings of Sussex (University)

Shamelessly ripped off from the University of Sussex Staff News comes an interest snippet. Nearly 50 years after it first came out, the revised Sussex edition of a renowned series of architectural guides is about to be published – with our own Falmer House on the front cover.

Falmer House

The news item goes on

The Sussex volume of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s comprehensive and authoritative 46-volume series was first published in 1965. It includes seven pages on the “uncompromising” 1960s Sussex architecture by Sir Basil Spence – the subject of an exhibition on campus in 2012.

“The campus has worn well,” writes Antram, who is sensitive to the original, listed Spence buildings and those of the later, evolving campus.

“There is a carefully controlled relationship between landscape and buildings, sometimes formal, sometimes informal, the established park and Downland setting omnipresent …

“The buildings are remarkably homogeneous, their leitmotifs being heavy, chunky slabs of in situ cast concrete vaults, often used as bands, contrasted against the red brick walls …

“Roman indeed seems the epic monumentality of the Sussex buildings with their rhythmic arches and grand exterior staircases, even if that formality is softened by the materials and the asymmetrical layout.”

The campus tour of individual buildings begins with Falmer House, the first 1960s building in the country to be given Grade I listed status by English Heritage.

Pevensey 1 is described as “high drama”, the Chichester Lecture Theatre as an “awesomely plain brick drum” and the Library as a “rather brooding presence”.

Swanborough, meanwhile, is “unassuming”, and East Slope consists of 13 “troglodytic blocks stepped up the hillside”.

In my experience, opinions are generally rather divided about the architectural quality of the buildings on the University of Sussex campus. Mine are too, actually. I think the overall plan is wonderful with its accurately aligned central axis visible in the jacket photograph. On the other hand, some of the buildings – especially the John Maynard Smith Building (when I was a student here  it was called BIOLS) is not very good at all and may well be demolished soon to make way for new Science Buildings. I agree that East Slope is dire. The building I am in – Pevensey (formerly MAPS) -is actually rather nice, and most staff seem to like it here. My favourite building on the campus, however, is the Library; largely because Sussex still has a “library” as opposed to a “Learning Resources Unit” or some such nonsense. In any case I don’t find it at all “brooding” so I’m  mystified by that comment.

Some have called it brutalist but I think the relationship between the campus buildings and the surrounding countryside has been managed very sensitively. It’s purely a matter of taste, of course, and no doubt some locals will want to express differing opinions through the comment box!

5 Responses to “Buildings of Sussex (University)”

  1. Monica Grady Says:

    Looked at the picture, didn’t read the text. Thought ‘Sussex Uni looks like my college in Durham’ (St Aidan’s). Which was designed by Basil Spence. Then I read the text and realized why!
    Never been to Sussex……
    M

  2. Adrian Burd Says:

    I seem to recall a student organization placing a mattress, or something similar, on top of the structure at the entrance of Sussex University leading to some rather stern remarks from the powers that be. Though, it may just be my impending dotage playing tricks with my memory.

    • telescoper Says:

      I remember a lot of things worse than that!

      The worst thing about Falmer House is the silly sort of moat affair around it, which is now permanently drained and tends to attract rubbish.

      Most of my own memories of those days are unprintable and associated with “The Crypt”, which no longer exists..

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    “It’s purely a matter of taste, of course”

    Yes. Good taste and bad taste.

  4. I like it, i generally like lots of buildings that look like car parks. I studied at Leeds, and the roger stevens building im sure was brutalist. It also has the longest corridor in England in it!

    Dont know if links are allowed but heres a good one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Leeds#mediaviewer/File:University_of_Leeds_(4th_May_2010)_035_Brighter.jpg

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