De La Warr Pavilion

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The De La Warr Pavilion

The De La Warr Pavilion is a grade I listed building, located on the seafront at Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex, on the south coast of England.[1]

The Art Deco[2][3] and International Style[4][5] building was designed by the architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff and constructed in 1935. Although sometimes claimed to be the first major Modernist public building in Britain,[6] it was in fact preceded by some months by the Dutch-influenced Hornsey Town Hall.


The new seafront building was the result of an architectural competition initiated by Herbrand Sackville, 9th Earl De La Warr, after whom the building was named.

The 9th Earl, a committed socialist and Mayor of Bexhill, persuaded Bexhill council to develop the site as a public building. The competition was announced in the Architects' Journal in February 1934, with a programme that specified an entertainment hall to seat at least 1500 people; a 200-seat restaurant; a reading room; and a lounge. Initially, the budget for the project was limited to £50,000, although this was later raised to £80,000. Run by the Royal Institute of British Architects, this competition attracted over 230 entrants, many of them practicing in the Modernist style.

Shapes tend towards streamlined, industrially-influenced designs

The architects selected for the project, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, were leading figures in the Modern Movement. The aesthetics employed in the International Style proved especially suited to the building, tending towards streamlined, industrially-influenced designs, often with expansive metal-framed windows, and eschewing traditional brick and stonework in favour of concrete and steel construction. Amongst the building's most innovative features was its use of a welded steel frame construction, pioneered by structural engineer Felix Samuely. Construction of the De La Warr Pavilion began in January 1935. The building was opened on 12 December of the same year by the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth).

During World War II, the De La Warr Pavilion was used by the military. Bexhill and Sussex in general were vulnerable if the Germans decided to mount an invasion (Operation Sea Lion). Amongst those who served at the Pavilion during the War was Spike Milligan, later a noted comedian. The building suffered minor damage to its foundations when the Metropole hotel adjacent to the building's western side was destroyed by German bombers.

A dramatic stairwell in the pavilion

After the War, management of the Pavilion was taken over by Bexhill Corporation (which later became Rother District Council). Changes were made to the building, many of which were inconsistent with the original design and aesthetic of the building. Lack of funds also resulted in an ongoing degradation of the building’s fabric.

In 1986, the De La Warr Pavilion was granted a Grade I listed Building status, essentially protecting the building from further inappropriate alteration. 1989 saw the formation of the Pavilion Trust, a group dedicated to protecting and restoring the building. Playwright David Hare notioned that the site be used as an art gallery as opposed to an expected privatised redevelopment.[7] In 2002, after a long application process the De La Warr Pavilion was granted £6 Million by the Heritage Lottery Fund & the Arts Council, to restore the building and turn it into a contemporary arts centre. Work began in 2004 on the De La Warr Pavilion’s regeneration and a transfer of the buildings ownership from Rother District Council to the De La Warr Pavilion Charitable Trust.

In 2005, after an extensive programme of restoration and regeneration, the De La Warr Pavilion reopened as a contemporary arts centre, encompassing one of the largest galleries on the south coast of England. A small collection of archival materials related to the De La Warr Pavilion is collected in the Serge Chermayeff Papers held by the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University in New York City.


The pavilion in sunlight: "suitable for a holiday resort in the south of England"

“It is the intention of the promoters that the building should be simple in design, and suitable for a holiday resort in the south of England. Character in design can be obtained by the use of large window spaces, terraces and canopies. No restriction as to style of architecture will be imposed but buildings must be simple, light in appearance and attractive, suitable for a Holiday Resort. Heavy stonework is not desirable [...] Modern steel framed or ferro-cement construction may be adopted.” -The 9th Earl De La Warr on the specification for the De La Warr Pavilion

"Delighted to hear that Bexhill has emerged from barbarism at last, but I shall not give it a clean bill of civilisation until all my plays are performed there once a year at least." -George Bernard Shaw on hearing of the De La Warr Pavilion's opening.

"...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 British Architects with Hugh Casson at the controls and John Betjeman at the bombsight..." - Spike Milligan, from Adolf Hitler - My Part in His Downfall

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "De La Warr Pavilion: About Us". Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  2. ^ "News and Diary". Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  3. ^ Kennedy, Maev (16 April 2002). "Historic building to get £7m facelift". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  4. ^ "De La Warr Pavilion". 13 September 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  5. ^ "The De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, East Sussex". Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "De La Warr Pavilion Sussex by Mendelsohn and Chermayeff". 13 October 2005. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  7. ^ Life: The Observer magazine - A celebration of 500 years of British Art - 19 March 2000

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°50′15″N 0°28′18″E / 50.8375°N 0.4716°E / 50.8375; 0.4716