The arrival of Modernism

Design for a Staircase, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea

De La Warr Pavilion

Design for a Staircase, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea
Architects: Eric Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff (1934)
Drawing: Eric Mendelsohn (1934)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection

The Nazis rise to power did little good for British architecture. The bombing of British cities resulted in the loss of innumerable treasures of architecture. However, Nazi persecution did result in a movement of people, ideas and styles. One of the earliest émigrés to this country, Eric Mendelsohn, left a profound legacy in an unexpected corner of the South East.

Bexhill-on-Sea has long been regarded as a sensible, gentle place. Comfortably unfashionable, the resort was developed from the 1880s by the land owners, the De la Warrs, and is dominated by red brick of a florid kind. In 1933, all was set to change. The Socialist 9th Earl De La Warr organised an international competition for a new seafront entertainment pavilion that would put Bexhill on the map. Mendlesohn’s design, assisted by his partner Serge Chermayeff, beat over two hundred entries. Undoubtedly this is because their building encompassed great grace, bold simplicity and superlative planning.

These traits can be seen in this remarkable, early sketch. On this rough sheet of paper, backed by tracing paper, Mendelsohn sketched his idea for the principal motif of the Bexhill pavilion, the staircase.  Enclosed within a glass tower, this dominates the exterior and interior, the tower’s bold curves thrusting out towards the sea, at odds with the pavilion’s otherwise rectilinear forms. The staircase itself curves effortlessly up through the building, much like Mendelsohn’s fluid pencil strokes. Quite rightly, this has been called a modern masterpiece, a beacon of inspiration for British architects. All began from this humble drawing.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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