De La Warr Pavilion
Pavilion’s history and project brief The Grade I listed De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea is widely considered to be the most important British Modern Movement building of the inter-war years. Designed by Eric Mendelssohn and Serge Chermayeff, its design and construction were radical. The pavilion was the first public British building in the International Style – a Peoples’ Palace embodying Modernist architecture’s concerns with healthy living conditions, and making art accessible. The De La Warr Pavilion was extremely popular in the years immediately following its opening in 1935. However, after the Second World War the Pavilion’s use declined and the building began to fall apart; it was little appreciated and suffered from many alterations. By the early 1980s it had become neglected and decayed, its render crumbling, its metal corroded by the salty sea air and covered in scaffolding; the much-altered interiors were covered in flock wallpaper and floral carpets. In 1986, following an extensive campaign, the pavilion achieved Grade I listing status, saving it from further unchecked alterations, and in 1989 the De La Warr Pavilion Charitable Trust was set up to safeguard its future as an arts and entertainment venue in order to ensure its long term survival. The starting point for the entire project was the recognition that the Pavilion’s future could not be assured without a radical rethink of the way it operated and a fundamental shift in the way was perceived. The objective of this project was thus the refurbishment and establishment of a viable arts and entertainment venue that would reflect the vision of its founder as ‘a palace of the arts for the people’. In order to do so a more strategic approach was ultimately necessary, that would take into account issues that were over and above the technical ones related to the repair of the building’s fabric. Conservation strategy The first step of the regeneration process, in 1992, was a building masterplan that took into account the strategic actions that would provide long-term financial viability for the building. It also prescribed a systematic, sensitive approach to repairs and reinstatement, ensuring that the overall vision was not compromised in the various phases of intervention. A Conservation Plan was prepared in parallel to support applications for funding, and inform the proposals for repair and alterations that were being considered. A number of intermediate phases, although comparatively modest interventions, helped to revitalise the Pavilion, attract new audiences, demonstrate the Pavilion’s potential — and above all attract new funding. The Pavilion eventually received grants from the Arts Council of England and the Heritage Lottery Fund to complete the transformation of the building, enabling new extensions, a new restaurant, bar and shop and a state-of-the-art gallery. During the project’s final phase, much of the existing building fabric was repaired: the steel structure, original render and the remaining glazing at the North stair, while the original internal finishes and fixtures were refurbished. The work also included substantial alteration of ground floor spaces to form the new gallery and the reinstatement of the original sun-parlour and the original roof terrace. All external elevations were restored to original specifications. The area around the building and the car park needed reorganisation. The entrance hall, restaurant and kitchens, auditorium, bar, conference rooms and sun parlour were repaired and improved. The reinstatement of the Pavilion’s long-closed south terrace – a legendary and particularly beautiful architectural feature - was particularly important. The reinstatement of surfaces, fittings and key features - such as the pendant light fitting hanging in the spiral south staircase - were matters of material precision. It was possible to uprate some specifications: the new high performance glazing system, replacing low quality insertions, has also improved the environmental performance of the Pavilion’s public areas. The addition of new elements to the Pavilion, where the original design was of such quality, posed difficult questions regarding the appropriateness of the interventions and the architectural language used. Highly important was the concept of ‘fluid space’ that pervades the building, in which spaces flow almost seamlessly into one another. Conceptually the Pavilion is an enclosed space, rather than a structure. Because of this, the integrity of the original spaces had to be retained, or re-instated wherever possible, and complemented with new, focused elements of intervention that recapture the spirit of the original design. The practice proposed two new single-storey extensions to the north and south of the auditorium; one for offices, the other for a new community theatre and rehearsal space. These are uncompromisingly contemporary buildings, which reflect the same tenets of modern architecture that inspired the original building. Their design, with the use of natural light and careful detailing, complements the quality of the original structure, yet adds a new interpretation of it — but always in the spirit of the original design intentions. Local regeneration The revival of the De La Warr Pavilion has drawn more than a million visitors since re-opening in 2006, and triggered other regeneration projects in the town. An Economic Impact Survey shows that the De La Warr Pavilion has generated £16 million for the economy of the southeast region for the financial year 2006/7. The De La Warr Pavilion Trust reports a number of notable facts: the building attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year, some 3% from overseas; press coverage since its re-opening has been valued at £2.2 million, including significant European coverage in publications. Working with the Institute of Foreign Relations, the Pavilion was involved in the international tour of an exhibition, Eric Mendelssohn: Dynamics and Function, which included models of Mendelssohn buildings made by students from University of Stuttgart. The exhibition attracted over 30,000 visitors to Bexhill in two months, and was the only time on the tour that the exhibition was seen in a Mendelssohn building. Since its final completion in Spring 2008, the Pavilion has won an RIBA award for the South East region, and was awarded second place in the Building Conservation category of the RICS awards.


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    De La Warr Pavilion upon opening, 1935 De La Warr Pavilion in decline, circa 1980 Ground Floor Plan First Floor Plan North, South and West Elevations East Elevation, Cross Section New Wings Elevation and Section Detail Cross Section De La Warr Pavilion upon opening, 1935 De La Warr Pavilion in decline, circa 1980 Ground Floor Plan First Floor Plan North, South and West Elevations East Elevation, Cross Section New Wings Elevation and Section Detail Cross Section
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