Many members will have noticed the Astoria Cinema building in Gloucester Place in the course of its demolition. Our June 2018 update included a photo taken of glimpses of the interior. Other pictures of this disappearing Brighton icon, soon to be replaced by a block of flats, have featured in the press and social media in May and June 2018.
James Gray obtained images of the building going up in 1932 (vol 30 nos 85- 89):
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)
Adding your comment
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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