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ACCA Conversations: Ricardo Reveron Blanco, Communications Assistant at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts

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Our Communications Assistant, Ricardo Reveron Blanco, has blogged about his experience of being part of our team. He worked at ACCA during his time as an English Literature & French final year student at the University of Sussex:

Starting my contract with the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts in October 2018 has been the most fortunate experience I could have ever asked for as an undergraduate student. Copyrighting, artists liaison, interviewing and transcribing content, promoting events across social media and even being a runner for a filming production… are just some of the things I have been working on during my time in the team.

Working whilst studying has been a very personally beneficial asset where I have quickly learnt to time manage, prioritise and organise everything I do from here forth. It has also opened many other doors for me, like securing my position at another arts organisation where I also work part time. Working for Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts has enriched my student life and bridged the gap between being a student and becoming a full-fledged professional. I cannot thank enough the rest of the team for the mass of information I have been able to learn in such a short amount of time and now I am galvanized to confidently present myself professionally and obtain prospective careers this Autumn.

Apart from the utilitarian benefits of working for this thought-provoking contemporary arts venue, I have enjoyed promoting work that I personally have connections with. Sharing the pertinent social issues raised at Thinking Queer: Bloomsbury Group, spreading the aesthetically pleasing work of Jo Bannon’s Alba or outreaching audiences to see the political and cathartic performance of Lola Arias’ Minefield, I feel grateful that I have been part of, even in the slightest, for these artistic creations”

Meet the architects

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RHP Partnership Architects are the architects behind the multi-million pound refurbishment of our Grade II* listed building. We caught up with project architect Dave Sweeney to find out more about how RHP transformed the building and how to breath new life into an iconic structure.

What was your design philosophy when working on the plans for Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts? What were the steps in the design process of the building and what inspired to make the choices you made to form this building?

At the time of our commission, the Gardner Arts Centre, as it was known previously, had lain unused and closed for several years. Our task was to work with the University of Sussex to re-establish it as a self-sustaining centre of excellence for academic research, conference use and public performance.

The modern day requirements of this multi-faceted brief had then to be reconciled with an existing, Grade II* listed, iconic 20th century building. Here, we needed to create a functional, useable space – a space that would be flexible, experimental and innovative, whilst also being practical and functional – all within a limited budget.

We tend to take a more holistic approach to design in our practice; each project we work on creates a bespoke and unique building, and so it’s very important to talk with those people who will ultimately be using the space. From this research, we can then ascertain how our design can best support these uses.

So, we carried out careful and informed design research, which included a number of thorough assessments of the existing building (designed by Sir Basil Spence in the 1960s), and consultations with both English Heritage and the conservation team at Brighton & Hove City Council. It was essential for any design to by sympathetic to the existing building’s fabric, character and use.

Wherever we could, we kept to the existing shape and configuration of the building, using spaces within its structure to run the newly servicing equipment and identified the only location in the whole building where a glass lift, providing disability access to all levels, could be installed. Perhaps the most dramatic intervention was in the main auditorium where, in a bid to both respect the original drum form yet provide a suitable acoustic environment, a new system of angular, timber baffles was installed, visually lifting the whole theatrical experience.

How would you describe our building in a way that would set it apart from other creative arts centres?

The revitalised centre is the beating heart of the practice-based arts, both on the University campus in providing for research and conferencing, and reaching to the wider, non-academic community catering for top tier contemporary public performance.

The main auditorium is capable of hosting flat floor events, promenade performances, interactive installations and experimental music. Acoustically and technically, the building is now able to accommodate professional productions. Outside the main drum of the auditorium, the three separate towers provide for teaching and learning rooms whilst the original Spence-designed public spaces now offer a café-bar and an exhibition space.

Unique to Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts is this fusion of contemporary academic learning and research and public performance, all set within an iconic building of great architectural importance.

What was the reasoning(s) behind all the circular structures?

The original reason for the circular structures was entirely aesthetic – Sir Basil Spence’s vision for the campus was a collection of buildings which connected to land and each other.

The initial idea for the circular structures came from an earlier design for the University’s Meeting House, which consisted of varied masonry cylinders. Due to budgetary reasons, this idea was never built – a simpler version of it being realised instead - and so that design was adapted for this building.

Spence wanted the building to act as a ‘corner piece’, where the campus would meet the landscape of the South Downs – appearing to be anchored directly in the natural landscape. This drew upon similar inspirations to the rest of the campus, notably the aspiration to always see through the buildings to the existing mature and tree lined landscape beyond. Hence, the vaulted gaps within Falmer House. Other visual influences could have been drawn from the late period Le Corbusier (the Maisons Jaoul, the Millowners’ Building in Ahmedabad with its unfurling curved auditorium) and Louis Kahn’s early 1960’s work with brick, concrete and pure geometries (notably the Indian Institute of Management, also in Ahmedabad).

Our task was to work with this set of forms, and discover ways in which to make them suitable for performance, thereby breathing life into a facility now suited to the needs of the 21st century.

What are the main differences between the original design by Sir Basil Spence to the now renovated building?

Sir Basil Spence’s vision was of a functional, unique, arts teaching theatre set within the context of mid 20thCentury progressive performance. However, as time past, the building was repeatedly failing to meet the requirements of a contemporary theatre. Sadly, this was largely due to its unique design causing practical constraints for many travelling theatre companies.

Our new design addresses these shortcomings– and allows for a flexible auditorium that is supplied with modern services; a new properly sized control room; revised access arrangements to permit adequate stage and equipment movements; and that is supported by high end theatre tech, all facilitating innovative teaching and learning practices.

We were also designing with greater energy efficiency in mind – something that may not have been at the forefront of an architect’s mind in the 1960’s. New windows were commissioned and additional roof insulation was installed to boost thermal performance.

Accessibility was also fundamentally improved throughout the building with the installation of a new passenger lift and a back-of-house disabled platform lift.

Whilst the peripheral spaces to the main auditorium were re-purposed, the external building was carefully repaired, and any modern additions were always considered with the original Spence design in mind – after all, it’s unusual circular shape is what makes the centre so different and unique

Have you been back to ACCA since the building’s completion and what have you enjoyed seeing here?

We attended the opening public event of ACCA in the Brighton Festival in 2016 – a one man performance of Complicite’s The Encounter by Simon McBurney – 2 years before it hit The Barbican in London. The performance was utterly breath-taking, with the audience using headphones to witness McBurney’s powerful use of the spoken, recorded and projected voice, adding to the sense of being cocooned deep within the Amazon jungle of which he spoke, and deep within the timber lined womb of ACCA.

We’ve held a number of guided tours since the ACCA project completed too, all who we’ve taken round have uttered an audible gasp on entering the new auditorium and most are fascinated to hear of the building’s transformation.

We also held RHP’s 40th anniversary celebrations at ACCA and were honoured to have Michael Attenborough present who delivered an excellent summary of the project.

The team at ACCA are devoted and very hardworking, and it’s thanks to them that the building is now a success. It’s extremely rewarding to see one of Brighton’s best loved theatres once again being used and enjoyed as it was originally intended and it is very gratifying to think that we’ve had a hand in bringing it back to life.

DISCO! An Interdisciplinary Conference

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From its origins as a New York City subculture amongst gay, black and Latino/Latina practitioners, and its transition into the mainstream, to its subsequent lives across international scenes, disco poses pivotal questions about the entanglements of art, industry, identity, and community. Disco is the site of many significant and lasting debates in popular culture, including those surrounding the figures of the DJ and the diva, the status and significance of dancing bodies, the tension between what is authentic and what is synthetic, and the historic maligning of society’s others.

Join us for a major interdisciplinary international conference at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on 21-23 June, which aims to examine and expand these debates. We hope to explore disco as a tentacular phenomenon that reaches across multiple sites of production and consumption, from music and dance to fashion and film.

Keynote presentations by:

Melissa Blanco Borelli (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Tim Lawrence (University of East London)

SYLVESTOR: Artist, Icon, Diva

Featuring artist David McAlmont

Organised by the University of Sussex.

The Attenborough Archive is now open to the public

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Thousands of never-before-seen photographs, letters, script notes and more spanning Richard Attenborough’s extraordinary life and career are now at the fingertips of students, researchers and the public, thanks to a new archival collection now open.

The Attenborough Archive has been accepted in lieu by HM Government from the Attenborough family and allocated to the University of Sussex, in recognition of Lord Attenborough’s 40-year association with the University, which culminated in 10 years as its Chancellor until 2008.

After 18 months of painstaking cataloguing the collection is now available for the public to explore at The Keep, the purpose-built archive near to the University campus and just along the road from Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts.

The collection features never-before-seen material covering some of his most famous work; location plans and call sheets for Oh What A Lovely War!, famously filmed in and around Brighton during the 1960s; early sketches for the character of John Hammond who he played in Steven Spielberg’s iconic featureJurassic Park; and Gandhi, the film that scooped 8 Academy Awards®, including Best Director for Attenborough.

The Gandhi material includes annotated scripts and the call-sheet for the film’s historic funeral scene, which, with nearly 350,000 extras listed, is still the most populous scene ever committed to celluloid.

There is also a wealth of more personal material, including family photographs and letters from his brother Sir David Attenborough; general correspondence with everyone from Charlie Chaplin to the Queen; and papers documenting his tireless charity efforts working on behalf of Muscular Dystrophy UK and campaigning for the erection of the statue to Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.

Richard Attenborough’s son, theatre director Michael Attenborough, ACCA’s patron, said: “This massive archive reflects my father’s breathtakingly active life; not only as a movie actor and director, but also as an indefatigable fighter for human rights and social justice, through the many causes, political and charitable, he believed in so passionately.

“The range of people he knew intimately - from Noel Coward to Nelson Mandela, from Laurence Olivier to Princess Diana - is unprecedented. This archive now offers the world a real insight into this completely unique life.”

For more information and to register as a reader to view material, please click here.

Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts launches Autumn programme

We are pleased to announce our plans for Autumn 2018! The UK’s first ever interactive film event, an opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes or to fly in a virtual reality world, and a marathon performance of remembered dances are all part of a packed programme ready for you to come and experience. The programme contains a distinctive mix of music, digital installation, performance, unique film screenings, discussion and debate.

Head over here to see the full list of everything to come and experience. You can also get in the mood for Autumn first by watching our short film too. Created for us by our friends at Content take a peek and catch a glimpse at just some of the action we have planned ahead for the rest of 2018.

Legendary photographer to be special guest at Sussex graduate showcase event

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A legendary photographer will be appearing at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts this week to inform and inspire a new generation of visual artists, who are presenting their own work at this year’s University of Sussex Media Practice showcase.

Marilyn Stafford, who now lives in West Sussex and can count Einstein, Edith Piaf, Le Corbusier and Twiggy among her portrait subjects, will be discussing her life and work on Tuesday 29 May at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts from 6.30pm.

The event marks the launch of the yearly BA Media Practice Student Showcase event, which allows current students to display the screenings, images and installations that form part of their final year project, spanning multiple media; from sound, animation and documentary to photography, digital media and drama.

The showcase is free to attend and students’ work can also be seen on the following day, Wednesday 30 May, between 11am and 3pm.

Stafford was born in the USA and moved to Paris in 1948, where she became close friends with Magnum founders Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, cutting her teeth in the industry by taking photos of poverty-stricken children in the City of Light.

After capturing the plight of Algerian refugees escaping across the border into Tunisia during the 1958 Algerian War with France, Stafford moved to Rome and then Beirut, continuing to take photographs before moving back to the UK and embarking upon a career as a successful stills photographer in film and fashion.

The BA Media Practice Showcase is run by the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex.

​Local performers join Gob Squad for unique intergenerational show at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts

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British/German arts collective Gob Squad have performed all over the world for 25 years. Now, they come to our venue as part of Brighton Festival with a brand-new show, Creation (Pictures for Dorian) where they will be joined onstage by six local Brighton-based performers. We have co-comissioned this new work which will travel to LIFT festival in London after the UK premier here in Brighton.

Gob Squad is a British-German collective based in Nottingham and Berlin. Having worked collaboratively since 1994 in the fields of performance, video installation and theatre, they create mid-scale work that combines audience interaction with real-time video editing. The company often use popular culture to explore the complexities of everyday life and have a history of involving members of the audience in its performances. Yet, for the first time ever, Gob Squad have recruited local Brighton performers to take part in Creation (Pictures for Dorian).

Long-standing Gob Squad core member Sean Patten says: “We want to really lift the lid and explore beauty, aging, morality, mortality from different perspectives. [We’ve found] people older than us, and people younger than us, and people who – like us – spend a life on stage, or whowant to spend a life on stage so that we can connect to them and find out what it’s like, and what it means to be visible in visible, looked at and regarded as an object of beauty.”

The chosen participants - three under the age of 22, three over 60 – all have some experience of performing, or in the case of the younger bracket, aspire to be on stage, with two of the young performers in their last year of studying drama at the University of Sussex. They are Samuel Longville and Holly Nomafo.

One of the participants, Dorothy Max Prior, explains that: “I first read A Picture of Dorian Gray 50 years ago. Then, a budding teenage dancer; now, well into my sixties and still dancing, just a little more creakily… Gob Squad’s Creation isn’t a version of Oscar Wilde’s iconic book, it’s a kind of homage to it; an exploration of its themes, especially the central fantastical idea of keeping a portrait of yourself in the attic that ages whilst you remain eternally young-looking.

“Gob Squad are in the middle phase of their lives, as performers and as human beings, and they decided that they wanted to investigate both the idea of framing, of portraiture; and the obsession with looks, image, and ageing, using a cast of older performers (60+) and younger (aged around 20) student performers, who appear alongside the core cast as the models and muses. The show has a tight structure, but with room for improvisation within that structure. The guest performers are led by the hand throughout, often literally – moulded, guided, instructed. We are invited to respond not as lifeless mannequins but as ourselves… It’s great to be involved, and an interesting learning process. You can teach an old dog new tricks!”

Gob Squad member Sharon Smith explains that Creation is partly inspired by the members of Gob Squad hitting middle age and contemplating youthful vitality and good looks slowly ebbing away. “We wondered what it would be like if we were presented with people that reminded us of ourselves in the past, or who we would like to be in the future,” says Sharon, referring to their volunteers.

We’re all about 50, not really looking forward or back. It’s a kind of waiting place – neither here nor there. That’s why we were interested in this multi-generational meeting.”

The project is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s character, Dorian Gray, who meddles in the domain of the gods with the aid of a magical painting. He suspends the process of ageing and remains young and beautiful forever, at a terrible cost to his soul.

Tickets via our website for the shows which take place from 23-27 May are available here

ACCA Conversations: Ben Woodward, pond manager

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We speak to Ben Woodward, Company Director of Universal Aquaculture Limited, to learn more about the decisions that go into the careful task of managing our Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts pond.

Looking Deep into Shallow Water

Great architects and landscape gardeners have realised the importance of water being incorporated into design for centuries. Water can represent any shape it is put into, the Chinese base a lot of martial arts on the idea that one must be as close to water as possible. Indeed if you put water into a tea pot it becomes the shape of the tea pot. On a greater scale rivers uncoil as they get to the sea like a python, water cannot only be silent and still but it can be a deep roaring torrent or the waves on the beach can send us a chorus of voices. Even though water can be all of the above, it is easily tamed and controlled when used on purpose in manmade environments.

In design water can be used as a sign of power such as a moat on the medieval castle reflecting the building and making it look twice the size and height. It can be used to enhance tranquillity as is the case in Monet’s garden in Giverny. It is also used to breathe life into vast landscapes as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown often did with his landscape architecture. Looking into the distance of a Brown garden over the lake, the seasons seem to appear more defined, the lake at the bottom of Kimberley Hall’s estate uses the Autumn mist as a duvet as it prepares for the surface to become ephemeral ice and lock away the secrets under the murky surface until springs capricious air breathes life back into the water. It is almost as though the ancient Greeks were correct in assuming Persephone was returning to earth and with it bringing back the abundance of nature the spring and summer has to offer us.

In the case of Sir Basil Spence (the University of Sussex architect) he incorporated water in a bid to soften what is describe as ‘brutalist architecture’ making his moats/water features an integral part of the buildings he designed.

The team at ACCA realised how important this element was in the renovation of the building and decided to reinstate the moat to not only its former glory but surpassing the technologies that were available at the time to make sure the water remains healthy and clear; if you compare the quality and clarity of the water at ACCA to the other ponds on campus it is clearly far superior to anything on site.

Circles and curves are typically the weakest structures when using concrete and brickwork so typically large buildings constructed with traditional methods (such as ACCA) will move. Seeing as water can escape through pin holes the original pond cracked causing leaks due to the movement of the building.

When we were asked to come aboard on the project to renovate the pond, it was exciting and always great to be involved with grade listed buildings. The first thing we wanted to make sure is that whatever we did we wanted it to stay as close to how Sir Basil Spence desired. This meant making sure whatever materials we used and whatever equipment was needed to keep clear was kept hidden.

The water proofing of the pond has been done in layers, we repaired cracks, rendered the walls and the floor, then we added three layers of fibreglass to waterproof it. It is kept clear by a bespoke filtration system which is located in an underground chamber in front of the pond – again hidden so to create zero impact on the building itself. The water is pumped into the underground chamber and is fed through a series of filters including an ultraviolet light system to kill the unicellular algae which causes green water.

We are going to be planting the pond up when the weather stabilises for summer and the pond will begin to look better than it ever has. As part of the maintenance regime the water quality is regularly tested and it has never been any less than perfect since the new system and maintenance regime was implemented – this makes for happy fish, healthy plants and the reflection that Sir. Basil Spence once dreamed of becoming a reality. Without the modern technology we have today to install low impact high efficiency filters he would have seen the pond turn green and it would have been emptied and refilled for events. The beauty of the new system is a huge saving in water, it will rarely if ever need completely emptying, providing the maintenance is kept up to date the water will remain clear and healthy for years to come and the look of the pond as the plants mature will always improve.

The water will provide not only a place for the buildings reflection but for the quiet reflection and contemplation of those who choose to put down their modern distractions and enjoy being around the water, to be in the moment, to be around something that allows the sunlight to dance on its surface and for us to stare whimsically through its waves, after all we are made up of around 60 percent of the stuff.

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