Basil Spence

From Academic Kids

Sir Basil Urwin Spence, (13 August 190719 November 1976), was a notable Scottish architect, most famously associated with the Cathedral in Coventry, but also responsible for numerous other buildings in the Modernist style.



Spence was born in Bombay, India but was sent back to Scotland to study. He attended George Watson's College in Edinburgh, then the architecture school of the city’s Heriot-Watt University, before completing his architectural studies at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London.

Early career

His first post was as an assistant in the London office of Sir Edwin Lutyens (whose work was to have a profound influence on Spence's style), where he worked on designs for the Viceroy's House in New Delhi, India. He subsequently joined the London office of Rowland Anderson & Paul, where he worked with Sir William Kininmonth, then returned to Edinburgh in 1930.

Spence served in the British Army from 1939-1945, reaching the rank of major.

Global recognition

Missing image
The Hutchesontown redevelopment in 1965, showing (centre) the two Hutchesontown C blocks by Spence.

During the war, Coventry’s Anglican Cathedral had been almost completely destroyed during enemy bombing. In 1944, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott submitted a design proposal to rebuild the cathedral but this was rejected by the Royal Fine Arts Commission. In 1950, a competition was launched to find the most suitable design from a British Commonwealth architect. Over 200 entries were received, but Spence's radical design was ultimately chosen. Work began in 1956 and the structure was completed in 1962. Spence was knighted in 1960 for his work at Coventry, and also served as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1958-1960).

In a low point in Spence's career, he was also responsible for designing some of the infamous high-rise housing developments in Glasgow, Scotland. These concrete monstrosities were intended to replace the notorious slum tenements in the Gorbals area of the city. However, a combination of social deprivation and exclusion in the relevant areas, coupled to poor execution of his designs meant that the developments created as many problems as they solved. His most derided, the Hutchesontown C scheme, was demolished in 1993.

Other projects

From 1961 to 1968, Spence was Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy. Sometimes compared with Robert Adam for his attention to detail, particularly in incorporating bespoke furniture and other elements into interior spaces, Spence died in 1976 in Eye, Suffolk and was buried at Thornham Parva, Suffolk.


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