Sussex building names: Where did they come from?

What is the meaning behind these weird names?


Sussex campus features a variety of questionably named and designed buildings – the 1960s were a wild time, responsible for the seemingly never-ending sea of red brickwork that we have all come to know and love. But beyond the obviously named places around campus – inspired by surrounding areas of Sussex, and for some reason one building named after Essex  – many buildings have a history of their own.


John Maynard Smith

For those doing BAs, JMS is probably unchartered territory, but this humble building was named after evolutionary biologist with the same name. The Guardian heralded JMS as “one of the world’s greatest evolutionary biologists” and he became the first dean of the School of Biological Sciences on campus. He was awarded the Crafoord prize (a prize for those not eligible for the Nobel prize) and the Kyoto prize for lifetime achievement. His work in the field of biology was regarded as so successful, he is one of the few biologists to have a university building named after himself.


The Shawcross building has a nicer ring to it than Lord Shawcross of Friston, of whom it was named after. Shawcross was a brilliant and immensely influential lawyer who led Britain at the Nuremburg trials; a highly controversial case taking place over 1945-46 surrounding Nazi leadership.

He eventually went on to found JUSTICE, the human rights and law reform organisation and he became its first chairman and held this position until 1972. Shawcross was a highly important figure in the forming of Sussex; he also served as the second and longest running Chancellor between 1965-1985. Why are IT services and the School of Engineering located the building named after the great lawyer? That remains to be seen.


Freeman stems its name from Christopher Freeman, whom according to Wikipedia “was an English Economist the founder and first director of Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex, and one of the most eminent researchers in innovation studies, modern Kondratiev wave and business cycle theorists.

Freeman contributed substantially to the revival of the neo-Schumpeterian tradition focusing on the crucial role of innovation for economic development and of scientific and technological activities for well-being.”

To an non-economist, this technical jargon may be highly confusing; but his influence drastically changed the field of economic research at an academic level; so much so that he was awarded several honorary doctorates including those from the Universities of  Linkoping, Sweden, Sussex, Middlesex, Birmingham and Brighton.

Asa Briggs

Asa Briggs, Lord of Lewes, was a highly influential historian who focused on and cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries and the history of broadcasting in Britain. The lecture theatres in Arts A were named after him due to his longstanding career, spanning from 1945-2002, with pieces on subject matters ranging from Victorian societies to social media.

The previous Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing made the following comment about his passing in 2016: “He had a huge breadth in his life and he contributed to an enormous number of different universities, different ideas to his discipline of history, and on a much wider scale to higher education in general. He was a visionary and a dear friend; I shall miss him terribly.”

Let’s hope the next one is named after Tickell.