Meeting House

Each time that I return to the University of Sussex, I get the distinct impression that Sir Basil Spence may well be Brighton’s most under-appreciated man. Most Sussex students are unaware of his work and most of those that do notice simply write him off as another insensitive Brutalist brute. One person who does love Sir Basil is campus-based art historian Alexandra Loske-Page.

Alexandra recently introduced me properly to the freshly-painted Meeting House, a multi-faith building with a heavenly interior. I am not sure who sanctioned the painting of this university building though, but it does appear to be a schoolboy error. Exterior concrete, or brick for that matter, should never be painted, especially when it belongs to a Grade II* listed structure.

Painting aside, the exterior of the building is in good shape. Its gargoyle-like gulley outlets direct rain away from the copper roof and into the moat below. Aluminium windows have a bad reputation but this is probably because many were used inappropriately as replacements on Victorian buildings. In the right setting, such as this, their clean lines are most apt. On the subject of clean, what should be a welcoming entrance is littered by (literally) and with (metaphorically) scruffy smokers. This is sad but it at least provides some contrast to what comes next.

Upon climbing either of the two curved flights of steps within the lobby, visitors are deluged with coloured light from the many different panes of glass that occupy the spaces between the concrete blocks from which the building is constructed. There is a real mix of colours which vaguely divide up as red and orange in the west, yellow in the north, and green and blue in the east. The upstairs room is huge and has to be seen to be believed.

The Meeting House opened in October 1966 on the site of Tenantlain Barn at a time when campus was still rather barren. With an oast house-like exterior and a dovecote-like interior, its rural roots are not forgotten.

I knew when I was studying at Sussex that I didn’t understand the architectural merit of the buildings around me but, thinking back, I didn’t really care. I mainly recall being frustrated that the moat within the Falmer House courtyard was empty (it still is). Since leaving, I have been getting to know and appreciate Spence’s work. Alexandra calls it “love at second sight”.