The scheme, to improve accessibility to the 60-year-old building on the university’s Falmer campus, was recently handed both planning and listed building consent following ‘extensive discussions’ with Historic England and Brighton & Hove City Council.
The project is among a number of ongoing developments at the university, including Feilden Clegg Bradley Studio’s ongoing 1,900-home West Slope residential development, due to complete in early 2027.
According to Keith Williams Architects, the cylindrical tower will be made from red Sussex radiused stretcher bonded brickwork with textured precast concrete framing to entrances ‘to reflect the materiality of Spence’s original façades’.
Deputy university librarian Fiona Courage said: ‘The creation of a fully accessible main entrance to our library has been a long-held aspiration.
‘The approved plans honour our architectural legacy while creating a modern, accessible entrance that will meet the needs and expectations of our university community. We are committed to making our campus more accessible and the addition of a new accessible entrance marks the first step towards making our iconic library accessible for all.’
Enabling works are set to start this summer with completion due in 2025.
Opened in 1961 as the first of the seven so-called plate-glass post-war universities, the University of Sussex laid out by Basil Spence incorporates some of the finest works of post-war mid-20th-century university architecture. Most of the eight core buildings designed by Spence are now listed.
Conceived by Spence as a ‘repository of knowledge’, the university library is set atop a sloped grassed bank 5m above the main approach, and the building’s grand scale brick expression with concrete oversailing arched roof and monumental staircase creates a powerful almost temple like composition.
The monumental flight of steps that leads to an off-centre entrance sits between two massive blind brick planes. The library’s main façade is composed of red brick and bare, board-marked concrete. Its main elevation forms a giant order of 15 bays with projecting brick buttresses flanking three of the bays. Vertical strip windows punctuate large areas of blind brick walls.
A key part of the university’s drive toward universal access across the campus, our proposals will add a freestanding circular brick lift tower directly in front of the library’s main façade to connect the university’s main public space, (Library Square), and the library main entrance. A new 80m-long concrete walkway is to be placed above Spence’s now largely redundant concrete services plinth that currently runs along the top of the grassed bank at the base of the library, linking the lift tower and the library to the wider university campus.
The design of the lift as a brick circular drum/tower takes its references from other circular buildings on the campus designed by Spence.
The brick tower will be made from red Sussex radiused stretcher bonded brickwork with textured pre-cast concrete framing to entrances to reflect the materiality of Spence’s original façades.
Niched bays with chevroned brickwork draw from the Sussex vernacular but are reinterpreted in a pared-back manner to add to the tower’s sculpted form and monumentality. The result sets the new piece apart from Spence’s work but also establishes a strong contextual connection with it.
Keith Williams, founder and director of design, Keith Williams Architects
Location University of Sussex, Falmer, East Sussex
Local authority Brighton & Hove City Council
Client University of Sussex
Architect Keith Williams Architects
Planning consultant Parker Dann
Structural engineer Arup
M&E consultant Arup
Quantity surveyor AtkinsRéalis
Principal designer AtkinsRéalis
Lighting consultant Arup
Main contractor Following a compliant tender process, the university has a preferred contractor, however, at this stage, the name of the contractor is not in the public domain.
Start on site date Not yet confirmed
Completion date Not yet confirmed
Contract duration Not yet confirmed
Gross internal floor area m² N/A
Form of contract and/or procurement SCAPE Framework
Annual CO2 emissions Minimal but not yet confirmed
Total cost Not yet confirmed