De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill on Sea
and Serge Chermayeff 1935 Restored by John
McAlsan & Partners 2005
built by Earl De La Warr when the modern was only just beginning to be the
accepted architectural style of social progress. Earl De la Warr, the
socialist mayor of Bexhill-on-Sea, drew up a brief for a building simple in
design, light in appearance, with large window spaces, sunbathing terraces,
a restaurant, a reading room, a multi-purpose entertainments hall: a
modernist dream building by the seaside. De La Warr Pavilion was to be the
first large scale welded steel-framed building in the UK.
competition announced by Bexhill Corporation attracted 230 entries, and was
won by one of the giants of European architecture, a revolutionary and
visionary, Erich Mendelsohn - famous for his Einstein Tower in Postdam and
his Schoken department store in Stuttgart. (See also hisMossehaus
in Berlin.) His
local partner would be Serge Chermayeff.
building is recognised as the perfect expression of the Modern movement in
1930s Britain. The pavilion – housing entertainment and conference halls
functions rooms, a library and a terrace restaurant – was completed in 1935.
It was the first public building in Britain designed and built on
International Style principles, an inspiration for the Royal Festival Hall,
London and one of the few surviving buildings designed by Mendelsohn. “The
interior is truly music,” as the Earl said to the architect during the final
stages of the De La Warr’s construction.
the Second World War the pavilion fell into disrepair, its render crumbling,
its metal crushed from the salty sea air and covered in scaffolding.
1990s the architect John McAslan started its restoration. The pavilion faced
problems both of serious physical decay and of adaptation to changing ideas
of entertainment and leisure. To secure the funds needed to repair and
regenerate the building, its perceived role had to change, from that of a
local amenity to a regional arts centre, attracting audiences from a wide
stretch of the south coast and its hinterland. So, alongside the much loved
theatre, there is to be a new gallery, reflecting an ambitious new
exhibitions programme. One of the basic problems is that the pavilion is
relatively small – it was part of a far larger scheme, abandoned after the
Second World War. Public spaces have been colonized for offices and
storage. Some extension of the building – proposed by Maxwell Fry over forty
years ago – was judged vital.
chosen solution for the restoration was to construct a separate wing to the
north, linked to the Pavilion at basement level, congruent in style but now
a pastiche of the 1930s.
For the building the original architects chose a welded
steel structure. Inside, the pavilion felt like an ocean liner. Its walls
were painted ivory-cream, floors covered in cork or cream terrazzo. People
sat on bentwood chairs at beechwood tables with white lino tops lit by
Bauhaus globe lamps. All those details have been carefully restored by John
The pavilion is a Grade 1 Listed
Building in the UK Government scheme for protecting important buildings.
original architect's model is on display in the main gallery of
Cristina Belmonte (John
McAslan Architects) 2005
How to visit
The De La Warr Pavilion
re-opens in October 2005 as a national center for contemporary art.
By train: you can reach
Bexhill-on-Sea on the Hastings line from London Victoria. Walk down Sea
road, turn right and along the marina for approximately 150 meters. The
pavilion is set back from the promenade overlooking the sea.
By car: take
the A259 from Brighton to Bexhill-on-Sea, follow signs to the pavilion on
pavilion is open 10am-6pm, 7 days a week (from October 13th
2005), and in the evenings for programmed events.
For further information please call +44 1424 787900 or visit www.dlwp.com.
Books and other web
further information about the restoration project please visit
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