Brighton School of Art

Brighton University’s Faculty of Art began as the Brighton School of Art in the Royal Pavilion in 1859, just over 150 years ago. To confuse maters somewhat, names along the way have included the ‘School of Art and Science’, the ‘Municipal School of Art’, the ‘College of Arts and Crafts’, the ‘Faculty of Art and Design’ and the ‘Faculty of Arts and Architecture’!

The Faculty’s Grand Parade Campus is surprisingly spacious and very central. It was built in a contrasting style to the art school which previously occupied the site – concrete and glass as opposed to brick and Bath stone – and was opened in 1967 by Sir Walter Thomas Monnington, President of the Royal Academy.

The principal architect was Borough Surveyor Percy Billington and his contribution turned out to be one of just a handful of decent local buildings from that period. Dr Anthony Seldon places it within his top ten 20th century buildings of Brighton & Hove in his book Brave New City. My own (very short) list of favourite buildings from the 1960s and 70s includes Eaton Manor, Park Gate and, of course, the University of Sussex – but that’s about it. Incidentally, Billington was also responsible for the police station on John Street just around the corner.

I recently met with architect Ian McKay from BBM, the Lewes-based sustainable design specialists, to look at a series of additions to the building completed by his firm in 2007. Inspiration came from Raphael’s School of Athens, a painting which brought together Aristotle, Plato and other great philosophers.

One of the new areas was a single storey extension which was constructed over a section of the popular courtyard. Quite rightly, no space was lost as it features a large roof terrace which overlooks the valuable green space below. Another of the additions was a café with an acoustic ceiling behind the Sallis Benny Theatre. The theatre, incidentally, takes its name from Mr E. A. Sallis Benny, Principal from 1934-58. From there, students can relax and enjoy pleasing views of the park-like courtyard through the new colonnade.

A remarkably sustainable material, coppiced sweet chestnut, was the material used for the colonnade’s pillars. New bricks to match the existing were quarried locally (near Crawley). Lime was used in the mortar instead of cement. Brighton’s great art school has been modified many times since the 1960s – but never with such emphasis on environmental responsibility.