The Depot Cinema, Lewes shortlisted for an RIBA South East Regional RIBA Award

The Depot has been shortlisted for a Royal Institute of British Architects South East Regional Award. It is one of 14 projects shortlisted in the region, from 44 entries, and will now be visited by the Jury Panel, with the winners announced in May. 

James Robinson, RIBA Regional Director said of the shortlist: “We are very lucky to have such outstanding buildings on the shortlist this year. It’s been a good year. The standard and variety of the entries is very high; from small private houses to the larger public and institutional buildings. The shortlist also demonstrates the fantastic amount of design talent in and around the regions, in practices both large and small, local and working nationally or indeed, internationally.

“The region has an amazing architectural heritage with buildings that have the capacity to amaze, inspire and improve our quality of life. This year’s RIBA Awards shortlist and the winners we are about to celebrate, show that they are still being built.”

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3 new screens and new place in the community

The Depot is a new community cinema for the town of Lewes, in East Sussex, built on the site of the old Harvey's Brewery depot. It shows feature and independent art-house films, as well as hosting events, exhibitions and festivals, and provides facilities for film education and community activities. A café/bar and restaurant allow filmgoers to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat at all times of day.


BFF’s approach

Burrell Foley Fischer were commissioned by Lewes Community Screen, who built and operate the new venue. BFF’s radical approach was to retain the much loved existing warehouse building, a popular landmark in a prominent location close to the town’s railway station, and insert the three new screens (140, 129 and 37 seats) within it. A new glazed foyer houses the box office, café/bar, restaurant, and film education and training facilities, giving a contemporary setting with the former industrial building as a visible backdrop. Reflecting the historic site layout of orchards and meadows, the former tarmacked service yard is landscaped to provide a new public realm.  It includes native and local plant species providing seasonal colour and a small orchard and wild flower meadow. 

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The inspired brief

The Depot is a privately funded philanthropic project, delivered without any draw on public funding. The project aims to make a positive contribution to the South Downs National Park and to respond to its unique and special qualities. It is now a contemporary exemplar of local flint craftsmanship. Because of the topography of Lewes and the South Downs, particular thought was given to the design of the roofscape, which is visible as a fifth elevation, and it features flint paving and a green roof planted with chalk loving plants, all found in the SDNP. There was extensive consultation with local access groups to ensure a welcoming and accessible facility.


The screens and backdrop spaces

Screen 1 has a stage and the technical infrastructure for small scale comedy acts and music performances and live music events are held in the café/bar. Screen 3 is available for private screenings and events and benefits from its own bar/lounge. As well as a cinema, the Depot has a café/bar and restaurant open throughout the day. It provides a welcoming and safe environment for all sectors of the community and visitors to Lewes. Proximity to the station makes it accessible to visitors from the wider district. 

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Local creativity

As well as the use of local flint in the design the project also celebrates local creativity. The foyers can accommodate the mounting of temporary exhibitions in addition to the permanent display of Stephen Chambers ‘The Big Country’, which has been donated by the artist. The acoustic wall panels in Screens 1, 2 and 3 are digitally printed with a reproduction of the life-size animated figures painted on the walls of the Depot by Julian Bell, when he used it as his studio prior to its conversion. There are facilities for film education, including a small film library and study space, and a multi-use room with a flat floor that is used for a range of training and workshop events. The extensive external landscaping incorporates facilities for outdoor screenings and events.