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.
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!