Geology and geometry of nature inspires car park design


By Dianna Fletcher (Floud)

The design of the proposed Jubilee Car Park at the University of Sussex was inspired by fractals found in nature the chalk and flint of the surrounding South Downs National Park

The University of Sussex lies in the fold of a valley in the South Downs National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Belts of trees to the west, east and south screen the campus from the surrounding perimeter roads, beyond which rise rolling chalk hills that characterise the surrounding countryside.  

Throughout the last 40 years the campus landscape has been central to the University’s daily life, its self-perception and its promotion to the outside world. 

Sir Basil Spence, architect and masterplanner of the early University buildings in the 1960s was enchanted by the site, describing it as a ‘wonderful valley’. His work acknowledged the special characteristics of the beautiful setting, and his response gave the University a special sense of identity and a unique sense of place. 

"The whole precinct should have the 'sense of a University' and should, if possible, grow out of the soil of Sussex to become a natural part of this beautiful site. The landscape should preferably be enhanced by the addition of the buildings, just as the English scene has so often been improved in the past." 

Spence also noted that: "This peaceful pastoral scene could, of course, be destroyed by the intrusion of the motor car. The plan must cope with this situation, but areas should be kept permanently free from vehicles so that the pedestrian could find peace with his visual, oral and nasal senses undisturbed." The Idea of a New University, An Experiment in Sussex, edited by David Daiches (1964) p205 

Cars have become far more intrusive on our lives than they were in the 1960s. Today, it is even more essential to separate vehicles from pedestrians, creating a safe and social environment that encourages chance encounters between fellow students and staff. Car parks at the University have become too dominant, far from the "casual" first parking areas designed by Spence. 

Banishing the car to the fringes of the campus was a key consideration in ADP’s masterplan, which sought to reinforce Spence’s concepts, which are just as relevant today as they were 40 years ago. 

The Jubilee Car Park will replace vast expanses of tarmac, and in the true spirit of the University’s development, is designed to integrate with the landscape and character of the buildings on the campus. 

Located on the western edge of the campus, the car park takes the form of two multi-storey wings, one is aligned with the orthogonal grid of the campus and the other is angled to follow the edge of the South Downs National Park. Trees have been conceptually ‘captured’ between these wings, creating a natural extension of the surrounding landscape.

Taking inspiration from fractals found in nature and the geology of the National Park, the car park is wrapped in cladding that consists of a random arrangement of diamond-shaped, anodised folded aluminium panels in the grey and black of the flint, and the white of the chalk. Some panels are omitted to allow for natural ventilation, daylight and views out.

Just as Spence’s sought to integrate buildings within the landscape, the materials he used in his designs are sympathetic to the location – a palette of Sussex brick, concrete, knapped flint and timber; materials that ADP has used on subsequent buildings throughout the campus. The car park is no exception. The entrance and stair tower of the new decked car park will be constructed from board-marked concrete, chosen to make a visual and physical reference to the listed buildings by Spence within the campus*.

Construction on the Jubilee car park is due to start in Spring 2017 and is the first project to be delivered under ADP’s revised masterplan, which achieved outline planning consent last year.

*The 1950s and 1960s was a time of significant social change and the University of Sussex was the first new university to be built after the second world war. Listing many of these brutalist and modernist buildings does not prevent them from being adapted to suit modern needs. Sir Basil Spence saw his buildings as living, growing organisms that would adapt to future needs.



Dianna Fletcher (Floud)

Dianna Fletcher (Floud)

Dianna has a particular interest in the sensitive conservation and renewal of the historic built environment. She is part of the senior management
team of our London studio.