Page C1.2 . 06 December 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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  • Configuring Kew

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    De La Warr Pavilion


    The final phase, completed in October 2005, included a new gallery for contemporary art, a restaurant, live performance space, and rehearsal facilities. Because of the architectural importance of the Grade One-listed historic building, McAslan's firm worked closely with English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society to make sure they adhered to the original design intents.

    Renewed Arts Pavilion

    The result of these years of collaboration and negotiation is an architecturally sensitive and sophisticated refurbishment that has been a resounding critical success since its reopening. More than 10,000 visitors attended in a single weekend of opening celebrations. One imagines Mendelsohn and Chermayeff would also have approved of this redevelopment work.

    The newly reopened open-air top deck overlooks the sea, and visitors have the feeling of inhabiting a grand ocean liner. The deck had been a key element of the original design, promoted by the 9th Earl De La Warr, then mayor of Bexhill, for the health and relaxation of the occupants. The deck was one aspect of the idealistic and socialist mayor's ambitions for the building. But had been closed decades ago due to inadequate fire exits.

    De La Warr saw the pavilion as a place where people could learn about the arts, use the library to expand their minds, and enjoy the fresh sea air on the wrap-around viewing decks. The design of the building, a pioneering concrete and steel construction celebrating the international style, sought to reflect these ambitions architecturally, with minimal, clean lines, views to the water, and high-quality details and finishes.

    In History's Wake

    The original competition brief stated "no restrictions 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."

    Mendelsohn and Chermayeff responded by applying then-experimental building technologies: lightweight steel frames that were prefabricated at a factory and welded together and erected on site. Their original design included a two-story pergola linking to a circular swimming pool with a pier out to the sea, but these elements were not built due to financial constraints.

    McAslan's design for the extensions and refurbishment reinforces the original design ideas. The firm improved and updated circulation through the building to bring it into compliance with appropriate fire and access regulations. They were thorough but applied a soft touch, not straying from the original forms and intentions.

    Achieving such a change at De La Warr from the functionally inefficient, cramped, crumbling ruin it was to the pristine, restored pavilion is striking, and must give real satisfaction to the renovation team.

    McAslan spent much of the project budget cleaning up the result of decades of lack of maintenance and reinstating critical design elements that had been marred by well-meaning additions and alterations in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the rescue of the De La Warr pavilion came too late to save much of the original furniture and many of the original 1930s fittings such as those in the library which have been lost or damaged beyond repair.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    View from first floor balcony of the De La Warr Pavilion.
    Photo: Bridget Smith

    ArchWeek Image

    South side, looking up from the terrace.
    Photo: Chris Parker

    ArchWeek Image

    A crowd of visitors on a summer weekend.
    Photo: Brady Peters Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Visitors crowd the balconies to watch performances on the terrace.
    Photo: Brady Peters

    ArchWeek Image

    Shell-like bandstand designed by Niall McLaughlin Architects.
    Photo: Brady Peters

    ArchWeek Image

    Site plan.
    Image: John McAslan + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    First floor plan.
    Image: John McAslan + Partners Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    South elevation.
    Image: John McAslan + Partners Extra Large Image


    Click on thumbnail images
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