De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea
Grade I listed Art Deco contemporary arts centre
Architect: Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff
Year built: 1935
I certainly did not expect to come across this modernist treat during a recent visit to Bexhill on Sea. Located on the seafront of an otherwise typical British seaside town, the striking De la Warr Pavilion has a bold, decidedly international look about it, having been built by a band of immigrant architects in the 1930s. After years of neglect, it was deservedly granted a Grade I-listing in the 1980s and has been used as a contemporary arts gallery since 2005.
Vaguely resembling some kind of vast ocean-liner both inside and out, the building is a strong, simple construction composed of clean straight lines, plain white surfaces and geometric shapes. The solid cube of the building’s auditorium is offset by the circle of the main stairwell, an open spiral set in a glass cylinder, and the long, horizontal strips of its balconies, oriented to make the most of view, sun and fresh air. Inside, there are touches of 1930s glamour, such as curved Aalto seating, elegant ceiling lamps and that graceful, sweeping staircase.
The building is is often used as a wedding venue (one appeared to be taking place when I visited) and I can see why: its design, scale and seafront location lend the De la Warr Pavilion a sense of understated drama and elegance. There’s also a nice cafe overlooking the sea and a decent shop which sells the usual array of pleasing design tat.