In 1959, Basil Spence and Partners was commissioned to plan and design the first of the new wave of new or “utopian” univeristies to be built in Britain after the Second World War. The brief called for the campus to be built on a rural 94-hectare site approximately four miles from the city of Brighton over a 15-year period, and included a provision for future expansion. By 1971, the practice had designed 17 buildings for the new university and had won several prestigious awards for their work, including a medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects and a Civic Trust award.
Situated at the edge of the chalk outcroppings of the scenic South Downs, Spence was “humbled by this superb and beautiful site” and designed a scheme of low buildings that allowed the banks of trees to form the skyline. Spence also felt the scheme should reflect the character of Sussex and chose brick because it was the dominant material used locally.
The use of brick is seen particularly in Falmer House which is a brick faced, vault-and-column structure. Basil Spence and Partners were commissioned to build Falmer House in 1959, marking the beginning of the first building phase of Spence’s masterplan for the university. It was the first part of the campus to be finished as it served as both the gateway and as the social and administrative heart of the campus.
“I feel that one of the most important things is that a university should give the student a feeling of confidence.”
- Sir Basil Spence, speaking to BBC’s Town and Around programme, 1963
Several years later, in October 1966, the Meeting House at the University was completed for dedication. The ground floor has a multi-purpose space that can be used for quiet contemplation during the day and public meetings or recitals at night. On the first floor is a 350-seater interdenominational chapel.
Spence was deeply concerned that students and staff should feel happy during this long construction period. In order to achieve this he created ‘pockets of completeness’ by finishing each building phase before starting another. As the campus grew, these areas were connected by a series of green, interlocking courtyards that Spence felt created a sense of enclosure from construction noise and debris, and provided a place where students could socialize and relax.