From Coventry to Sussex: Spence exhibition celebrates university’s architectural heritage 50 years on
What does an architect do after rebuilding a great English cathedral?
In the case of Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976), one of the most eminent Modern architects of the postwar period, it was to design the first of a new wave of universities – the University of Sussex.
This year, the University celebrates its 50th anniversary alongside Spence’s Coventry Cathedral.
To mark Spence’s enduring contribution to Sussex, art historian Professor Maurice Howard has brought together for the first time the University’s own collection of original drawings (some by Spence), models, photographs and artifacts relating to dining and ceremonial at the University to evoke a sense of the early years of Sussex.
The exhibition space, a room in Arts A that overlooks the main square and core campus buildings, takes advantage of a view of campus from the window which brings the final results of the first phase of building into sharp focus.
The exhibition, which opens on May 10 and runs until 14 June, explores the phases of development, public and press reaction to the scheme, the early use of the buildings and the landscaping of the environs, as well as the buildings’ place in Spence’s distinguished career.
Original research by Professor Howard and by the country’s leading Spence scholar, Louise Campbell of the University of Warwick, brings out the significance of the buildings, while Spence himself will be seen giving his views in archive film as part of the visitor experience. Professor Howard was assisted by art history graduates Sally Johnson and Mike Davey.
Professor Howard says: “I have been involved in many exhibitions for national museums and learned societies, but the chance to work on this show about the historic legacy of buildings at my own university has been an extraordinary experience.
“Working with a team of professional designers has meant that the exhibition looks very beautiful, the objects present a strong sense of artistic merit and yet it is clear they served as the practical means of planning the university’s listed buildings.
“To bring all this together has meant consultation with the country’s leading scholars of Basil Spence, his family and business associates, but also people who knew the university in its early days. I hope that the exhibition will elicit more memories and information since I see this very much as the starting-point of the next stage of valuing the university’s buildings and planning their future.”
The exhibition is partnered by a lecture given by Sussex alumna Campbell and introduced by the architect (son-in-law and practice partner of Sir Basil Spence) Anthony Blee, on Spence, Sussex and the Sixties , on 23 May.