Sir Basil Spence - Architect 1907-1976

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright March 2017, Thomas Nugent; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
Images also under a similar Creative Commons Licence.


5. University of Sussex

 Basil Spence Quote 8

Spence and his practice designed seventeen buildings for the university. Appreciative of the picturesque downland site, Spence kept the profile of the buildings low in order to maintain the tree covered horizon. He also used a red brick finish which was already common in the area.

Spence was very sensitive to the needs of the students and staff who were living and studying on the campus as it expanded. He included green squares and lanes to ensure that the students always had an oaisis of calm at their disposal. He also adopted a phased approach to the construction, completing each phase before starting the next, thus providing ‘pockets of completeness’ at all times.

5.1 Exterior photos of the University of Sussex

TQ3408 : Falmer House, University of Sussex by Paul Gillett
The University of Sussex was the first of the new wave of universities founded in the 1960s, receiving its Royal Charter in August 1961


TQ3408 : Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Student Union Shop, Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Quadrangle, Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House (Northern Side) by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House (Eastern Side) by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House (Southern Side) by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House, Univ of Sussex by Paul Gillett
TQ3408 : University of Sussex Entrance by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Pevensey I, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : CRPC Building, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3408 : Falmer House (Western Side) by Simon Carey TQ3409 : Path to Arts A, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3409 : Lancaster House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3409 : Essex House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3409 : Bramber House, University of Sussex by Simon Carey TQ3409 : Arts Road, University of Sussex by Simon Carey

6. Swiss Cottage Library

 Basil Spence Quote 9

Also known as Hampstead Library, the library is part of what was intended to be a much larger complex of buildings forming a Civic Centre and including council offices. Those plans fell through when local government in London was reorganised in 1964-66. Despite being Grade II Listed, the adjoining Spence designed swimming pool, which opened at the same time as the library, was demolished in 2003.

6.1 Exterior photos of Swiss Cottage Library

TQ2684 : Swiss Cottage Library, Avenue Road by Stephen Richards
An eyecatcher by the esteemed Basil Spence, Bonnington & Collins, 1963-64. Built with the adjoining swimming baths, both of which "delight in their use of concrete, and are distinguished externally by powerful geometric contrasts" (Pevsner). The library is a very long rectangle with semi-circular ends, the facade broken up Portland stone fins. Grade II listed.
It was conceived as a larger civic complex, the rest of which was aborted as the borough of Hampstead was abolished in 1965.
by Stephen Richards



TQ2684 : Swiss Cottage Central Library, Adelaide Road, NW3 by Mike Quinn TQ2684 : Swiss Cottage Central Library by Oxyman TQ2684 : Swiss Cottage Library, London Borough of Camden by Julian Osley TQ2684 : Swiss Cottage Public Library, London Borough of Camden by Julian Osley

This short youtube video includes footage of the library shortly after it opened and also includes an interview about the building with Sir Basil Spence. Note: This is an excerpt from the video featured in the Short Biography section of this article.



7. The Coventry Churches

In addition to the cathedral, Spence designed three other churches in the city. These were commissioned in 1954 by Bishop Gorton of the local Anglican Diocese, whose brief was to design three low-cost parish churches to serve the new residential suburbs of Tile Hill (St Oswald's), Willenhall (St John the Divine) and Bell Green (St Chad's).

To achieve the low-cost requirement, Spence had the buildings constructed out of lightweight, rough textured, ‘no fines’ concrete, so called because it contained no fine gravel. By employing this cheaper material, Spence was able to build three churches compared to the cost of a single church had it been constructed of more traditional bricks and mortar. The £50,000 cost of the three churches was met from the War Damage Commission funds. Construction was by George Wimpey & Co. Ltd.

Although built to a fairly standard design (each church has a capacity of 250 worshippers, a stand-alone tower, a hall for 100 people and a vicarage), each has its own individual character as a result of variations in the site layouts, design of the glazing, internal furnishings and external sculptures.

7.1 Church of St John The Divine

Built 1955-57.
SP3676 : Church of St John the Divine, Robin Hood Road, Willenhall, southeast Coventry by Robin Stott
Built in 1957 and designed by Basil Spence along with two other neighbourhood churches in Coventry. The rear of the church is seen in SP3676 : Church of St John the Divine, Robin Hood Road, Willenhall, southeast Coventry. A number 60 bus heads for Arena Park in the north of the city. Photographed in the late afternoon of a bright day in early October.
by Robin Stott


SP3676 : Bell tower, Church of St John the Divine, Robin Hood Road, Willenhall, Coventry by Robin Stott SP3676 : St John the Divine Church, Willenhall, Coventry by Alan Paxton SP3676 : The Church of St John the Divine, Robin Hood Road, Willenhall, southeast Coventry by Robin Stott SP3676 : Church of St John the Divine, Robin Hood Road, Willenhall, southeast Coventry by Robin Stott

7.2 Church of St Oswald

Built 1957-58.

SP2878 : St Oswald's Church, Jardine Crescent, Tile Hill, west Coventry, from the east by Robin Stott SP2878 : St Oswald's Church, Jardine Crescent, Tile Hill, Coventry, from the south by Robin Stott SP2878 : St Oswald's Church, Jardine Crescent, Tile HIll, west Coventry, from the southwest by Robin Stott

7.3 Church of St Chad

Built 1958.
SP3682 : Partial view of St Chad's Church, Hillmorton Road, Wood End, north Coventry by Robin Stott
St Chad's also serves the neighbourhoods of Henley Green and Manor House. It is one of the three local churches designed by Sir Basil Spence, architect of the new Coventry Cathedral. At the time of my visit views of the church were obstructed but it appears very similar to the Church of St John the Divine, Willenhall on the southeast side of the city: SP3676 : Church of St John the Divine, Robin Hood Road, Willenhall, southeast Coventry. Other partial views of St Chad's are SP3682 : Forecourt and south end of St Chad's Church, Wood End, north Coventry and SP3682 : Partial view of St Chad's Church, Hillmorton Road, Wood End, north Coventry. See also Thomas Nugent's article on Sir Basil Spence LinkExternal link
by Robin Stott


SP3682 : Forecourt and south end of St Chad's Church, Wood End, north Coventry by Robin Stott SP3682 : Partial view of St Chad's Church, Hillmorton Road, Wood End, north Coventry by Robin Stott

8. Southside Garage, Edinburgh

Located amongst the tenements on Causewayside, south of the city centre, this was the first commercial property designed by Spence. It is in the International Modern style, with Art Deco finishes. It was almost lost to the bulldozers until a sympathetic owner had it transformed into a retail unit with loft apartment in the late 1990s.

8.1 Exterior photos of Southside Garage

NT2672 : Basil Spence designed former garage on Causewayside by Thomas Nugent
A Category B Listed building LinkExternal link in International Modern style. An early work by Basil Spence, his first commercial project.

Want to see inside? LinkExternal link .
by Thomas Nugent


NT2672 : Former Southside Garage, Causewayside by kim traynor NT2672 : Causewayside by Thomas Nugent NT2672 : Garage and wine warehouse, Causewayside by Robin Stott

9. Newcastle Buildings

Spence was responsible for several office and university buildings in Newcastle, including the uncompleted All Saints Office Precinct and the now demolished Newcastle Central Library.

9.1 Exterior Photos Of All Saints Office Precinct

NZ2564 : Bede House, City Road, Newcastle by Stephen Richards
One of three office blocks built as part of the All Saints Office Precinct. A plan was drawn up by Basil Spence and T.P. Bennett & Son from 1969. More blocks were intended but they never left the architects' drawing boards. They all have canted corners and are generally of four or five storeys.
by Stephen Richards


NZ2564 : Aidan House, Silver Street, Newcastle by Stephen Richards NZ2564 : Cuthbert House, City Road, Newcastle by Stephen Richards NZ2564 : Cuthbert House by Thomas Nugent NZ2564 : ‘Articulated Opposites’, 55 Degrees North by Andrew Curtis

9.2 Exterior Photos of Newcastle Central Library

NZ2564 : Newcastle Central Library by MSX
T.Dan Smith is to thank for this concrete knowledge house.
by MSX



9.3 Exterior Photos of Newcastle University Herschel Building

NZ2464 : Herschel Building, King's Road, Newcastle by Stephen Richards
By Basil Spence & Partners, 1957-62, with claddings of brick, grey mosaic and slate.
It houses a number of scientific and mathematical schools of Newcastle University.
See NZ2464 : 'Spiral Nebula', Herschel Building, University of Newcastle upon Tyne for an accompanying piece of artwork.
by Stephen Richards



10. The Dunbar Housing Projects

Spence designed three housing projects in Dunbar in the immediate post-WWII period. The success of these schemes helped establish Spence as a key figure in urban housing architecture in the UK and led to his first contract in England, at Sunbury on Thames.

10.1 Victoria Street/Victoria Place

Built 1948-1951. Spence cleverly and overtly combined traditional east coast fishing village vernacular, including the use of red sandstone and slate, with modern construction and design techniques, such as thin iron railings, picture windows, projecting concrete balconies and coloured harl. The buildings were arranged in informal picturesque groupings, an arrangement which became the standard model for Scottish town redevelopment throughout 50s and 60s. The development is Category B Listed LinkExternal link , part of a group which includes Buncles Court.
NT6779 : East Lothian Architecture : 12 to 30 (even) Victoria Street, Dunbar by Richard West
A group of 10, symmetrical, paired, terraced 2-storey council houses, stepping down towards harbour. A significant example of Scottish interwar housing.


NT6779 : East Lothian Architecture : 3 to 9 (odd) Victoria Place, Dunbar by Richard West NT6779 : East Lothian Townscape : 3 to 9 (odd) Victoria Place, Dunbar by Richard West NT6879 : East Lothian Architecture : Detail of Steps at 3-9 Victoria Place, Dunbar by Richard West NT6779 : East Lothian Townscape : Piping at Victoria Street, Dunbar by Richard West NT6779 : East Lothian Architecture : Rear of 12 - 30 Victoria Street, Dunbar by Richard West NT6779 : East Lothian Architecture : 12 to 30 (even) Victoria Street, Dunbar by Richard West NT6879 : East Lothian Townscape : Plaque Attached To 3-9 Victoria Place, Dunbar by Richard West

10.2 Buncles Court/Lamer Street

Built 1953-1956. As with the earlier nearby Victoria Place project, Spence combined modern and traditional styles and techniques in this small development which, although grouped with Victoria Place, has a separate Category B Listing LinkExternal link .
NT6879 : East Lothian Architecture : 1-4 Buncles Court and 30-38 Lamer Street, Dunbar by Richard West
This photo nicely illustrates Spence's use of modern and traditional materials in the construction of the buildings.


10.3 Summerfield

Built 1954. Spence was responsible for designing the early phases of this greenfield housing scheme, which is on the western outskirts of the town. The Spence designed houses are on Poplar Street and Cedar Street.

NT6678 : East Lothian Townscape : Poplar Street, Belhaven, Dunbar by Richard West NT6678 : East Lothian Townscape : The Summerfield Housing Development, Dunbar by Richard West NT6678 : East Lothian Townscape : Reflection of Poplar Street, Belhaven, Dunbar by Richard West

To Be Continued

More works will be added soon.

Final Resting Place of Sir Basil Spence

Sir Basil Spence and his wife Mary Joan Ferris are buried at St Mary's Church, Thornham Parva in Suffolk.

Spence designed the Modernist style memorial himself. Unfortunately, the original crumbled with age and has been replaced by a replica.

TM1072 : Thornham Parva: St. Mary's Church: The monument to Sir Basil and Lady Spence by Michael Garlick
Sir Basil Spence OM (1907-1976) was, notably and among other things, the architect for the new Coventry Cathedral. They lived at Yaxley Hall nearby.
by Michael Garlick



Fittingly, there is a memorial to Spence at Coventry Cathedral.
SP3379 : Sandstone facing and inscription by E Gammie
"Remember with gratitude Sir Basil Spence OM KBE, architect of this cathedral"

An inscription on the wall facing the 'west' window of Coventry Cathedral commemorating its architect, Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976).
by E Gammie
Shared Description



Sources

Information contained in this article came from various online sources.

Canmore: LinkExternal link
Dictionary Of Scottish Architects (DSA): LinkExternal link
Historic Environment Scotland: LinkExternal link
youtube: LinkExternal link
KML

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