Edward Street is not one of the city’s most attractive thoroughfares. The western section, between Grand Parade and Upper Rock Gardens, is a wide, pedestrian-unfriendly dual carriageway. Its north side presents a depressing series of unattractive, buildings, constructed right up to the pavement edge.
Amex House, previously amongst them, offered a “breath of fresh air” in this unrelenting gloom. Set back from the pavement, its frontage provided an attractive, sunlit public space. It was one of Brighton’s best pieces of late 20th century architecture. The design was distinctive, and the materials were sympathetic to its coastal location.
A proposed new scheme places tall buildings right up to the pavement, closing up this one gap in the street-scene. There are open spaces further back in the development, but their position is unlikely to be as successful as that in front of Amex House. Surrounding buildings will block out the sun for much of the time.
Cafés are included at ground floor level. The plans show open air tables and chairs, creating an inviting impression of vibrant communal spaces. But we do not believe that cafés would flourish in these spaces, starved of sunlight probably subject to wind tunnel effects. They would have a much better chance of commercial success located in a larger, sunnier piazza, open to Edward Street, where they could also enliven that street’s dreary north side.
A tall, dense development is not unreasonable on this city-centre site. The proposed south-west building (block F) could be moved 15-20m. back from the pavement edge to re-create the piazza on Edward Street. The floor space lost could be re-located further back in the site, by increasing the height of the rear-centre block. This would have the extra advantage of adding variety and articulation to the profile of the development.
The designs proposed for the new buildings themselves are boring and bland. They show no sympathy for their location in one of England’s most significant seaside towns. No attempt has been made to use the roofs to create additional green space.
This site offers an opportunity to create a striking architectural statement to match that of the former Amex House. That opportunity will be lost if the current plans are approved.
We are grateful to member David Roberts for reminding us of a twentieth century building designed by our Vice President, John Wells Thorpe, which was not included in the RIBA map shown at the 'Mapping the best of Brighton Modern' event on 21 February.
The map has sparked considerable controversy as some feel important buildings have been left out, or challenge the right of others to be included. This is perhaps inevitable with any undertaking of this sort which is bound to reflect personal preferences.
So, to allow members to redress the balance we've decided to create our own Regency Society gallery of members' favourite twentieth century buildings in and around Brighton and Hove. Do you have a favourite, completed between 1900 and 2018, which you would wish to include? It does not matter whether or not it was included in the RIBA map.
If so, complete the form below by April 1 and we will publish the results in a gallery with the April update. If you have a picture you can attach it - but don't be deterred if you don't - we'll find one.
Please note that the gallery is only open to submissions from RS members.
If you are a member you can complete as many submissions as you like!
Regency Society Members' Gallery of favourite 20th century buildings in Brighton and Hove: submission form
13 Regency Society members prepared 1 minute presentations on their proposed 'Cabbage award' for the worst 20th century building in Brighton and Hove to follow the presentation on the RIBA Sussex map of the best 20th century buildings in Brighton and Hove on 21 February 2018. The audience voted to choose their least favourite building.
The presentations proved very popular so we are showing them again here. (All photographs were taken by RS members or derived from google maps)
I would like to see everything within the marina sea wall demolished. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could have a fresh start that is attentive to how the marina connects to the city that hosts it? I suggest that all entrances from whatever direction by whatever means are mean and an embarrassment.
My photos look at one way in. I walk along the loveliest part of our seafront, eastward from the pier. On my left are the beautiful Madeira Arches. On my right only sky, sea and the undulating contours of the shingle beach - until I reach the marina entrance.
A dark and dingy designated walkway, dominated by all things to do with cars. At least it runs east where I want to go - to the one place I might find respite - the boardwalk on a sunny day, hopefully for a good coffee and the tingling sound of ropes on masts of the boats. But the way ends abruptly. I cannot go forward. I am offered a choice of the Asda carpark to my left or descending into the bowels of the multi-story car park to my right.
My journey continues thus - but my time is up.
My message is this – there is no sense to this place.
Office building in New Road:
Very little is worse than boring.
This building is REALLY boring. Picture New Road: flamboyant Theatre Royal, elegant Unitarian Church, lively independent shops and cafes, imaginative paving and seating, musicians, street theatre, whistling bird man, drunks and campaigners, glimpses of the most blissed-out building ever - the Royal Pavilion.
In amid all the life and colour sits this dour, unimaginative building, glowering like a disapproving relative at a party - who only comes to life when the vol-au-vents appear. It contributes nothing to the life around it.
It is offensive in its boringness and needs to go - or (and here’s an idea) be painted gold.
In a supreme position, here is a vision in sombre grey and industrial green – born of the ingenious concept of an elevation composed of rough scaffold and leaky glazing. The pavement is squeezed into a margin where the view of the Royal Pavilion is disturbed by the lurking spectacle of a lacklustre subterranean car park glowering up through a sinister grille. The top storey is chopped back, skewing the outline. And the north elevation is a grim and featureless blockage of the face and outlook of the former Parochial Offices. A modest plot and its benign potential were forced into delivering this fiend. And they call it the Glass Pavilion. The bare-faced effrontery of this only adds insult to the injuries inflicted by this misconceived apparition.
Whatever else you think of this disfiguring lump, as Gavin Stamp called it, it directly added to the urban decay and inertia that afflicts the city.
In 1955 a Rank Organisation spokesman described the Frank Matcham-designed Palladium cinema, the former Alhambra Opera House, as ‘an out-of-date place of entertainment in an unattractive and exposed position on the seafront’. It closed six months later, remained empty for eight years and the site was derelict for another 15 years until the Brighton Centre was built.
In 1965 Rank opened the Top Rank Suite, designed by Russell Diplock & Associates . . . in an exposed position on the seafront . . . hence the blank façade, and closed the SS Brighton. Derelict for 24 years.
When this place became the Kingswest cinema in 1973, Rank closed three other cinemas including the Odeon West Street. Derelict for 17 years. Even more reason to think that Kingswest should disappear.
No, I’m not proposing the demolition of the i360.
Love it or hate, the i360 site has a coherent design. The restored West Pier kiosks on either side and the column in the centre create a striking symmetry.
But what’s that thing by the right-hand kiosk? It’s a roof on four legs. It looks temporary, but sadly it is not: it even has planning permission.
Its purpose is to keep the sun or rain off people during a security check before they enter the pod.
Clearly security is important but it seems no one thought about it during the design. So, we now have this alien structure disfiguring the site.
It should be removed. Do the security inside the kiosk. If that’s not possible, move the four-legged roof round the back of the kiosk to reduce its visual impact.
Sadly architect, David Marks is no longer with us. Let’s respect his memory by restoring the integrity of his original design.
The last minute reprieve for the Mazda Fountain was a huge mistake - just because something has clung, by sheer fluke, to existence for a long time it doesn’t make it valuable.
The council once described the Mazda Fountain as a ‘historical accident’. It is. It was an exhibition structure shipped here in 1930. It was not designed for this site. It wasn’t even designed as a park fountain. It was designed specifically for an ornamental lake.
It was meant to be heard and not seen. The unsightly boiler-plate cylinder was intended to be submerged. The only thing you should have seen were plumes of water projected from the centre of a lake - nowhere near any onlookers. And here’s the thing, as anyone who has been unfortunate enough to walk past it when its on will know - it blasts turbo-jets of water into the air, like a vast broken water main, soaking passersby. Not only this but it’s so costly that it’s hardly ever on so most of the time it looks like this - a rusty industrial drum surrounded by litter floating in a puddle of green slime.
Ignore the ill-considered campaign to save this monstrous cuckoo - lets melt it down and make something better.
Wellend Villas, is an example, but not the only one, of the sort of new "housing" prevalent in Brighton in recent years. Up the London Road on the old "Endeavour" site, it masks the listed railway viaduct from incoming traffic.
it is a cheaply built, charmless bland block hung with galvanised metal balconies which have forced the residents to resort to a variety of ways to achieve privacy. Inside they're mostly narrow, deep plans, with 2.5m wide living rooms and tortuous access corridors.
Ok the flats won't kill you, and they are somewhere to dump your stuff, but such a disappointingly long way from "lifetime homes".
Unfortunately this block was approved by Brighton Council with no objections. A previous, much more interesting proposal by Piers Gough (our next Antony Dale lecturer), was rejected by the Council, having been ridiculed and objected to by members of the "conservation lobby".
My beef here is with bad planners and ever greedy developers.
The central issue is with Brighton’s lack of civic pride. Here we are at the heart of Brighton’s Central Park: just imagine what a European city would do with an asset like Valley Gardens! Filled with people!
The great inappropriate lump of space this building occupies was decreed by planners.
But look carefully:
- first, but for protesters (led, I gather by Selma Montford) it would have been a bigger lump, as was the nasty, 20thC telegraph house which it replaces.
- second, it is really quite a careful and refined, if bland piece of building by a sensitive architect.
But the key civic crime is the city’s dumb blindness: permitting the killing of public space at ground level with a building dumb and blind. So no one enjoys strolling past it, no one dawdles: in fact it denies the generosity of the park it faces. We have the repelling pavement level of black glass, prison walls, killing the space around.
I’d not demolish.
I’d (1) sack planners who think like this.
and (2) demand the ground floor be entirely permeable, and open up to varied public uses, as befits its context in our city’s pedestrian heart: little shops, social spaces, workshops, cafés, the front three metres an arcade to shelter from the rain… anything just a little humane and inviting!
The UPAS tree is a very feared tree. It not only kills everything beneath it but it spreads its poison far and wide. They make strychnine from its seeds. The area around UPAS trees is always dead. No life can survive.
We have an UPAS tree in Brighton and Hove. We call it Bartholomew Square. Our enemies have planted it very carefully to cut off a main artery into what was, in the 18th, 19th and a large part of the 20th century, the beating heart of our city, on Market Street, where there was not only our Town Hall but also our Market and once our poorhouse. It connected our heart directly to our lungs, our raison d’être, the sea.
The area around our UPAS tree is already dead. I’ve marked it in blue. Very few go near it - sensing the deadness all around. It’s seeds, blown by the winds of municipal ignorance, are taking root all over the city. Kill it now.
A Cautionary Tale:
Once upon a time, in Hove, there was a disused Gas Works with nearby a parish Church, a Victorian School, a Carnegie Library and a pleasant pedestrian street.
All the ingredients needed to make Urban Magic
But along came greedy Tesco and built an ugly out-of-town shopping shed, plonked in an ocean of parked cars. An opportunity missed…….the store could have faced George Street, the cars could have gone underground, there could have been a south facing piazza linking the school, the church and the library.
Instead a total disaster – socially, aesthetically, spatially. But let this be a warning: we should never give developers a free rein. Standard Life will wreak the same havoc on Churchill Square and ultimately, on Black Rock, if we don’t do something.
Flag Court is a nine-storey block of flats which was built in 1959. It lies beyond the 30s block of Courtenay Gate at the west end of Hove Lawns, with cream stucco Courtenay Terrace to its right.
The photographs say it all:
• Flag Court is too orange! Its bright brick and cream-clad exterior relate in no way to other structures around it.
• Its height and bulk loom over the surrounding buildings.
• The orientation of the Vee-shaped building on its plot, with the point of the Vee facing seawards is out of line with its neighbours.
• The result is that we have a group of three entirely disparate and unrelated buildings in this short section of Kingsway.
• Finally, it is a towering and incongruous brick full stop at the sea end of Albany Villas with its 19th century white stucco houses.
For all these reasons I suggest we wrap Flag Court in a Cloak of Invisibility.
Churchill Square is built on land which was once a thriving community of residential streets, pubs, breweries and a school. Until the 1930s the Western Road edge was fronted by some lovely Victorian shops.
By 1967 the area had been improved to become the concrete, windswept canyons of the first Churchill Square.
Despite it being probably the last open air shopping mall to be built it did have one redeeming feature - there was a link to the seafront via the Brighton Centre.
Thirty years later we had version two. The link to the seafront has gone. In fact there is no link to anywhere else once you’re inside. The building is disconnected from the rest of the city.
The current Churchill Square is a large shed with a bland glass facade full of boring, standard chain stores unlike the rest of Brighton.
It’s too hot inside and it’s dull !
I chose the Gala Bingo Building for a few reasons.
1. It's awful. No architectural merit whatsoever. Horrible brick. Ugly roof. Disgusting blue metalwork.
2. It sites next to Brighton College - a fabulous listed building with all those great additions which are on the map. Buy one!
3. It has the worst public art in the city. A child-like representation of a train coming out of a tunnel. A cruel reminder of when the site contained this, the beautiful Kemptown Station.
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The Royal Institute of British Architects (Sussex) has produced a map that identifies and describes some outstanding buildings in Brighton and Hove of the last hundred years.
Map compilers Paul Zara and Richard Wolfströme introduced the map to the Regency Society at this light-hearted event. 49 buildings are included in this neatly produced and attractive map, coded as Modernist/Art deco, Housing, Brutalist and Contemptorary. Any such list is bound to be controversial but the thought which clearly went into its preparation and the attractiveness of the map itself impressed us - several were sold on the night.
After animated discussion over drinks and nibbles during the break, 13 RS members presented their notion of the worst 20th century building in Brighton, and a 'cabbage award' was voted on. The presentations were limited to one minute - but despite this restriction all 13 presented convincing cases for their 'cabbage'.
Would you like to comment on this article? We would be interested to hear your views, which will be added below. If you would like to do so you will need to register first - it only takes a moment and once registered you can log in and comment on other articles on this site in the future. Click here to register. If you have already registered, simply click on 'you must be logged in' at the bottom of the page.
The committee is sometimes asked why we advocate higher housing density for some proposed schemes. The answer has several elements - low density developments often lead to isolated communities with few local facilities and poor public transport. Low density new developments are a lost opportunity to address the urgent need for housing in Brighton and Hove, with all the attendant problems of homelessness.
Here David Robson traces the history and makes the case for medium rise housing.
The history of building upwards
In earlier times the heights of buildings were limited by our ability to build. They seldom exceeded three storeys and only monumental buildings reached above the general roofline. But as we became more skilled at making everyday buildings stand up, building heights were limited only by our willingness to climb stairs. When Rome became the first million city during the 3rd C. A.D. land shortage and congestion encouraged the construction of apartment buildings of up to six storeys, the maximum height to which Romans were prepared to climb.
The growth of cities: six storeys across Europe
Such heights were seldom matched during the Middle Ages, however, and it was only with the growth of cities during the 19th C. that height of residential buildings again began to increase. As cities grew, their physical area was limited by the reach of transport systems and, as a consequence, densities and building heights increased. In cities across Europe, such as Paris, Rome, Berlin and Vienna, six storey apartment blocks became the norm. Post-Haussmann Paris developed as a grid of boulevards lined with buildings of five or six storeys. A typical Parisian building would comprise a storage basement, a ground-floor given over to shops, a first floor of offices, three floors of apartments and an additional attic floor. Central Paris became one of the densest urban areas in the world, thanks to the consistent height and depth of its buildings combined with the relative narrowness of the intervening streets. And yet central Paris remains an attractive place in which to live and tourists still flock to enjoy the variety and liveliness of its street life.
Above: three buildings in Berlin from the 19th and early twentieth centuries
Below (l – r): 20th century London and 19th century Rome (2 images)
Housing density in the Regency period in Brighton
Brighton’s first high-rise buildings appeared already during the Regency. Houses at the north end of Brunswick Square, built during the 1820s, originally comprised a basement, a reception floor, a piano nobile, and three upper floors with an occasional extra attic. The building footprint was about 200 sqm. and a house with its basement and appendages might have had a total floor area of about 500 sqm. A typical plot occupied an area of about 250 sqm. and the net density was about 30 per hectare. However, these houses have since been so sub-divided as to produce a density of around 180 dwellings per hectare. Even when the area of the central garden is taken into account, the density is still more than 100 dwellings per hectare. This can be compared with suburban Brighton where densities of about 25 per hectare are the norm.
Technology takes us upwards
Two 19th C. innovations were responsible removing the cap on building height: the development of sophisticated steel construction and the invention of the mechanical lift. Nowhere was this more apparent than in late 19th C. Chicago where office and apartment buildings broke through the six-floor barrier and rose up to heights of twenty or more storeys. Today, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, rises 828 meters on 276 floors, while the Shard, the tallest building in the UK, rises a mere 309 meters on 95 floors.
Is there an upper limit?
Now, when building heights are no longer constrained by technology, by cost or by accessibility, we should ask ourselves, not what is possible, but what is desirable. Events such as the Twin Towers disaster and the Grenfell Tower fire have offered salutary reminders of the inherent risks of high-rise living – tall buildings are vulnerable to terrorist attack and to fire. In Hong Kong a friend lives on the 34th floor of a tower block. His view is fantastic, but the water in his fish tank gently slops from side to side as the building sways. And, after a severe typhoon, when the lifts were out of action for a week, he had to climb thirty-three flights of stairs, five-hundred-and-fifty steps, to reach his apartment.
Unfortunately, above certain limits, increases in height fail to produce commensurate increases in density. As buildings grow taller they require more land around their base and greater distances between them. My own studies suggest that there are diminishing gains when heights rise above ten storeys, and often no gains at all above twenty storeys
An example in Hove
I live in Furze Croft, a seven-storey block of flats in Hove. Our block contains 138 apartments of varying sizes and occupies an area of 9,000 sqm (less than one hectare), giving a density of about 150 dwellings per hectare. The total building area is about 11,000 sqm. and the building footprint covers 1,500 sqm. (i.e. about 16% of the site). Residents all own a small basement storage area and enjoy the use of over 4,000 sqm of shared gardens.
Brunswick Square, Furze Croft and St Michael’s Place
In Furze Croft, every flat has a visual link with the ground: lower flats see shrubberies and lawns, mid-height flats look into the trees, upper flats look across the tree tops towards the horizon. Each block has two lifts. However, if both are out of order simultaneously, the walk down to the ground is not impossible. There is a communal heating system and residents benefit from communal maintenance and security. The block requires less infrastructure than conventional housing – the entire street frontage is 100 meters, equivalent to 60 centimetres per apartment. The only drawback is that we don’t have balconies: a room-sized balcony has become the norm in countries like Germany and Switzerland and is an essential prerequisite of successful apartment living.
I’m not suggesting that Furze Croft is a paragon. It is one of a number of apartment blocks in the City, built between the Wars, that seem to offer a civilised way to build much needed homes at higher densities when land is in short supply.
Kate Jordan argues that prize winning Hastings Pier is a tangible glimpse of an optimistic future where local communities and councils collaborate with the best designers to produce a new kind of heritage, relevant to our time.
If the Stirling Prize is a barometer of prevailing winds in architecture then last year’s winner, Hastings Pier, suggests a sober outlook. This stark, timber structure, designed to replace the original Victorian pier, which was destroyed by fire in 2010, is far cry from the ‘starchitect’ designed winners of previous years. Indeed, it would be hard to find more contrasting buildings than Hastings Pier and Foster's ‘Gherkin’ which picked up the prize in 2004. If the high production values of early 2000’s prize-winners trumpeted economic confidence and rejoiced in cutting-edge technology, what does the decidedly low-tech, plain-speaking Hastings Pier tell us about the current climate? And what does it say about the changing role of the architect?
Nicola Westbury is an architect and Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings scholar who specialises in historic buildings conservation.
Gabriella Misuriello is the Churches Conservation Trust Project Manager for the South East. She is a building engineer specialising in heritage conservation.
They have been closely involved in the recent skilful repair of two ancient Sussex churches: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Warminghurst and St. Botolphs near Steyning. Nicola & Gabriella discussed the particular problems that such repair work involves and give us an insight in to caring for such fine buildings.'
This event will be followed by a coach tour of Sussex churches on 28 April.
Image shows the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Warminghurst