The De La Warr Pavilion

The De La Warr Pavilion was commissioned by the 9th Earl De La Warr, then mayor of Bexhill-on-Sea, in 1935, following a competition he held to design a new leisure complex for the town. It was designed by architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff. It was the UK's first public building built in what became known as the Modernist style, and a fine one at that. It still looks highly contemporary today, and indeed from the beach, on a clear summer's evening, it is quite beautiful. It boasts a stunning spiralling staircase with wide views across the English Channel towards Beachy Head. The Pavillion is remarkable not only for it's sleek design - it is the first British building with a welded steel frame, and even today it is considered to be one of the most significant buildings in the United Kingdom.

When is was built, this building must have looked comppletely bizarre to the residents of Bexhill. Freshly built, the gleaming white mass of concrete steel and glass must have taken some getting used to. It was of course intended to stand out. It was unique. The Earl and his supporters were very keen to inject new life into an area whose heyday had been and gone. Still, it was certainly not met with universal agreement. Bexhill was divided between retired colonial types there for a quiet life and those who saw that something was needed to give meaning, life, into the place; and to give young people something to do, or at least somewhere to go. That divide is the same now, but the youngsters of the town show little interest in the De La Warr (apart from when, occasionally, the bandstand area is converted into some kind of activity area, ie. skateboarding.

So, the De La Warr Pavillion has never been greatly loved or adored by Bexhill as a whole. It is kept alive by loyal supporters and donors, and the local authorities. There have on occasions been calls for it's demolition. By the end of the 1980s, the pavilion was in such a bad state that balconies had begun to collapse. London-based architects Troughton McAslan were called in to examine the various changes that had taken place in the building since the war. In fact, Earl De La Warr's vision had not been fully realised. It was meant to be attatched to an eight-storey hotel that was to have a curved glass facade facing the sea. This would have replaced a hotel owned by the De La Warr family that was burned down after the Second World War. Recently, proposals for a new hotel to be built on this site (now home to the most bedraggled looking concrete crazy golf course you will ever see) were rejected after fierce opposition from the locals. Also, at the eastern end of the pavilion there was to be a cinema that would have been linked by a pergola to a circular swimming pool and a pier leading into the sea. Cost prevented these proposals from ever manifesting themselves.

The pavillion has been Grade 1 listed since 1986. In October 2005 an 8 million pound restoration and redevelopment project was completed and the De La Warr Pavilion can continue to fulfil its original ambitions. The Pavilion is now One of the largest contemporary art galleries in South East England and can boast a large new studio space. It's roof is now accessible to the public, and a new award-winning bandstand designed by pupils from the local school has been erected outside the pavillion between it and the sea. The old cafe has been replaced by a flashy one where tea now comes in those irritating coffee cups with minute handles, and the restaurant now serves modern cuisine at modern prices! The De La Warr, suprisingly, never had a gift shop, and now it does, selling as it does a large array of books, tasteful souvenirs, and postcards etc. It's future is assured by a programme of exhibitions, talks, variety acts, performances, a Christmas pantomime and special events for children. The theatre seats over 1,000 people . This was the aim of Earl De La Warr when he first publicised his competition, so it's nice to see that the Building is still going strong after all these years.

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