The De Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea
In 1935 an architectural competition was run by the 9th Earl de Warr (the mayor of Bexhill and committed socialist) to design a “Peoples’ Palace” that would provide a space for public entertainment, education and social interaction.
The competition was won by by German British architect Erich Mendelsohn and his business partner Serge Chermayeff who was of Russian extraction. Their design for the De Warr Pavilion is a response to the many architectural influences that both men had experienced including modernism (the roots of these can clearly be traced back to Art Nouveau) , futurism ( seen in straight dynamic lines suggestive of speed and motion) and Constructism which had its origins in the USSR and was a reflection of modern industrial society and urban space.
The De Warr Pavilion is a long, relatively low building with two magnificent central curved stairwells that are expressed externally on both north and south elevations by glazed rotunda that neatly mediate between the blank face of the auditorium walls and, on the south side side, the glazed public spaces where the cafes and bars are located. The disposition of the glazing, punctuated by a regular rhythm of columns creates a sense of movement which is emphasised by the strong horizontal lines of the roof and first floor, and the the ship deck railings. This idea of movement is seen on the north side with the ground floor glazing to the auditorium block and horizontal ribbon windows on the east side of the rotunda.
Internally the magnificent sweeping cantilevered staircases invite the visitor up to take in the wonderful view over the sea. Fixtures and fittings are very much of their age and engender a sense of excitement towards the future.
Over the years the building has provoked strong feels, both negative as well as positive. Indeed, Spike Milligan has said of the pavilion in his autobiography “Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall”
“De La Warr Pavilion … a fine modern building with absolutely no architectural merit at all. It was opened just in time to be bombed. The plane that dropped it was said to have been chartered by the Royal Institute of Architects and piloted by Sir Hugh Carson with John Betjeman as bomb aimer.
but we fundamentally disagree! We loved this building and found it a wonderful example of an Art Deco building with its roots in the zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties and early 1930’s.
Sadly we arrived too late to enjoy a coffee in the cafe but we will definitely go back to ensure that we have experienced the building as Mendelssohn and Chermayeff intended!