Spence, Sir Basil Urwin

views updated Jun 11 2018

Spence, Sir Basil Urwin (1907–76). 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 & and Snoek (1963);
Jane Turner (1996)

Spence, Sir Basil Urwin

views updated May 23 2018

Spence, Sir Basil Urwin (1907–76). Scottish architect who leapt to prominence with his prize-winning design for Coventry cathedral (1951; completed 1962) which brought together such artists as Geoffrey Clarke, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink, John Hutton, John Piper, Patrick Reyntiens, and Graham Sutherland. Spence trained at Edinburgh College of Art, worked for Lutyens on the Viceroy's House, New Delhi, in 1929–30, and practised in Edinburgh during the 1930s. Spence designed the Sea and Ships Pavilion at the Festival of Britain in 1951, and with partners undertook extensive university work at Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Southampton, Sussex, and elsewhere. His other buildings include churches, housing, schools, and the chancery at the British embassy, Rome (1971). Spence was a gifted designer and draughtsman, with a powerful belief in the creative role of the architect, and his architecture was often picturesque—as at Mortonhall crematorium, Edinburgh (1967), set in a rolling landscape and calling to mind Gunnar Asplund's Woodland Crematorium, Stockholm. Like Lutyens before him, Spence was knighted and held the Order of Merit.

Peter Willis

Spence, Sir Basil

views updated Jun 27 2018

Spence, Sir Basil (1907–76) English architect. Spence is best-known for his modernist design of the new Coventry Cathedral (1951, consecrated in 1962). Other works include the Household Cavalry Barracks (1970) at Knightsbridge, London, and the British Embassy, Rome (1971).

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Sir Basil Spence

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