Sir Basil Urwin Spence

(1907—1976) architect

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British architect, born in India and educated in Scotland and London. He worked in the office of Lutyens for a brief period. He made his name when he won the competition for the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, Warwicks. (1950–1), regarded as a symbol of Britain's reconstruction after the 1939–45 war. Spence had been Architect for the ‘Britain Can Make It’ Exhibition (1946–7) and for the Scottish Industries Exhibition (1949). He also designed the Sea and Ships Pavilion for the Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition, London (1951). From that time he was able to build up a large and successful practice. Among his works were Undergraduate Residences, Queen's College, Cambridge (completed 1960), buildings for Liverpool and Southampton Universities (1960s), and the layout and first phase of Sussex University (1962–72). For the last he designed Falmer House, where he used arcuated forms derived from Le Corbusier's Maison Jaoul. He also designed the Library and Swimming-Centre, Hampstead Civic Centre, Swiss Cottage, London (1964), the Household-Cavalry Barracks, Knightsbridge, London (1970), and the British Embassy, Rome (1971), in all of which he tried to create a degree of monumentality. Spence's work brought contemporary architecture before the public, and his Coventry Cathedral enjoyed a degree of popularity. His work, however, seems hesitant in retrospect, owing something to Scandinavian sources, yet striving for a grandeur that eluded him, possibly because of reasons of scale, but perhaps more due to the poverty of the Modern Movement's architectural language. He was a gifted draughtsman and artist.

L. Campbell (1996);B. Edwards (1995);Kalman (1994);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);Placzek (ed.) (1982);Spence (1964, 1973);Spence et al. (1964);Spence & Snoek (1963);Jane Turner (1996)

Subjects: Architecture.

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