Sunday, 29 March 2015

Level restoration wins national award

August 2012
August 2013
Restoration work on The Level in Brighton has won a national award. Brighton & Hove mayor, Councillor Brian Fitch, presented an award to landscaping company Gavin Jones Ltd on behalf of the British Association of Landscape Industries at the council meeting on March 26.

Work on The Level was completed in 2013, transforming the city centre park with a package of improvements including a new children’s playground, fountains, extensive new planting and hard landscaping, a sensory garden, new lighting and seating. Historic features from the 1920s were also restored, including the park’s pavilions which are now available for use as community rooms and exhibition spaces. Gavin Jones Ltd carried out the work at The Level on behalf of Brighton & Hove City Council.

The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) awards are presented for landscaping work in parks, gardens and open spaces, the award was made to Gavin Jones for hard landscaping work on The Level. Other BALI award winners included the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Wall of Windows

At the University of Brighton in Grand Parade the Brooking National Collection is displaying four centuries worth of windows, ranging from a 17th century wrought-iron casement window from a Hampshire farmhouse,  to a 1960s window from the Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth, designed by Sir Owen Luder.  For the exhibition 68 key items were specially selected from the 500,000 items + that comprise the collection. They include a pine window from Windsor Castle designed by Sir Jeffry Wyatville, a Gothic Revival window from the Tower of London and details associated with well-known figures such as Sir Alfred Hitchcock and celebrated actor and playwright, David Garrick.

Charles Brooking at the official launch in Brighton

The remarkable Charles Brooking  is an architectural historian and consultant based in Cranleigh, Surrey. Collecting items since his boyhood, he established a small museum in his own home and, in 1985, created a Trust to preserve it for posterity. In 2013, it became a registered charity with the aim of preserving the physical detail of the UK’s built environment, and to demonstrate the craftsmanship involved as well as the social layering of British society.

Gothic Window Head.
Virginia Water 1884.
Steel, inward-opening, arrow-slit.
Portsmouth 1966.
The exhibition is sponsored by the Brighton & Hove Heritage Commission. It is open until 10th April and is well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in architectural history or amazing craftsmanship.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Mazda Fountain - Council statement

In its original setting in an ornamental lake the water level would have lapped the lip of the bowl and most of the unsightly boiler-plate cylinder would have been concealed. 

"The fountain’s presence in the city is something of an historical accident.  It was built by Thompson-Houston Ltd, a subsidiary of an American electricity company, for the British Empire Exhibition, 1924, staged around Wembley Stadium. 

It was moved to Brighton in 1930 when a new location was required.  It costs £8,000-£9,000 a year to run – roughly twice the cost of a modern replacement.  When working, it typically sprays water across a wide area because it was originally designed to sit in an ornamental lake.

The fountain was also originally to be illuminated by the General Electrics-branded Mazda light bulbs which give the fountain its name. Restoring lighting to the fountain is estimated to cost up to £30,000, and would add to maintenance and running costs."

In the forthcoming plans to enhance Valley Gardens water features would still play a key role. A new public square with integrated fountains to the south of St Peter’s church would aim to enhance its setting. New drinking fountains and restoration of the obelisk drinking fountain are also planned. A brook or ‘rill’ is is envisaged which would run south through the centre of the green spaces, hinting at the Wellesbourne, a seasonal river that once ran through the area. 

A sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) would have features designed to collect and slowly release rainwater, reducing flash flooding associated with modern weather patterns. The rill and SUDs system would help support increased biodiversity in the centre of the city.

Councillors last week gave the go-ahead for the scheme to progress to technical design stage. Subject to further approvals, construction work could start in September.

See also: - Further thoughts on the Mazda fountain

More cash for City Roads.

The Local Transport Body of the Coast to Capital LEP has awarded the City £1.83 million to invest in improving the transport network. The aims will be to reduce congestion, improve road safety and enhance the management of traffic incidents. Dealing promptly with problems as they arrive will speed up journey times and reduce air pollution caused by queuing traffic,

The money will be spent on a range of technologies including traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and variable message signs for travel and car park information.

Total cost of the project is £2.1 million, with the remaining £300,000 coming from local contributions.

The Valley Gardens pheasant.

 17.15 on 27 March 2015
It's not an urban myth! There IS a pheasant in Valley Gardens.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Seafront repairs ongoing.

Repairs to a key part of Brighton’s seafront will go ahead thanks to a successful £9 million bid to the Department for Transport’s Highways Maintenance Challenge Fund.

The council will now be able to carry out urgent reconstruction of the former West Street Shelter Hall, part of the historic Arches. Built in the 1880s this unusual building actually supports the upper promenade at the junction of the A259 and West Street, is in a very poor condition and needs to be replaced. A serious concern has been that a fully-laden HGV might inadvertently become diverted on to the promenade and cause a catastrophic collapse.

Councillors had already approved spending of £250,000 from the Local Transport Plan budget so that work could start as soon as possible on the reconstruction of the derelict Victorian hall. This will provide a great new seafront business location on the popular lower promenade as well as new public toilets.

The work will also allow the  busy West Street/King's Road junction to be remodelled to help people move and traffic flow more smoothly.

This much-needed cash injection  follows on from the £7m plus already invested in reconstruction of the arches around the i360 site. Ten restored Victorian seafront arches under the Kings Road were opened last year and funds from the latest Local Transport Plan will support Phase 2 of the Arches strengthening work, to the east of i360 site.

See also:- The lower promenade shelter hall

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Remains of the Chain Pier

Remains of the wooden piling just breaking surface at today's low tide.  

They probably align with the second pier out from the shore as shown in the 1890 photo below.

The remains of the first pier will now be buried in the beach due to the substantial build-up of shingle over the last 100 years.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Black Horse - then, later, now

February 2008
January 2010
March 2015
The message here is don't change anything until you are sure . . .

Monday, 16 March 2015


This extravagant confection in Clifton Road was completed c.1907 to designs by local architects Denman & Matthews whose practice spanned the Victorian & Edwardian eras, and it shows. In red-brick & render with canted tile-hung bays, half-moon dormers, turrets with porthole lights and dutch gables the architects seem to have been determined to create the busiest possible frontage regardless of expense.

Denman & Matthews also designed the Hare & Hounds public house at Preston Circus, 1905 and, shortly before the company was wound up in 1920, they were responsible for the conversion of the Sudeley Street Chapel to a cinema.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Further thoughts on the Mazda fountain.

Photo: Jax Atkins
Rivetted boilerplate would not normally be the material of choice for a public art work but the original purpose of the Mazda fountain was promotional. It was designed to flaunt the virtuosity of electric lighting in general, and Mazda equipment in particular, at an exhibition. On being transplanted to Brighton  it continued to do this to great effect as many Brightonians and long-standing residents will recall. The dancing jets illuminated from below by ever-colour-changing lighting redeemed, to considerable extent, its industrial appearance.

It is understandable therefore that the recently mooted suggestion for its removal as part of a Valley Gardens regeneration scheme has produced some strong reactions from those who already feel too much of familiar Brighton is being lost.

However longevity would not have been a concern of the original designers. The lighting was perforce housed in watertight chambers and the performance of insulation and sealants available in the 1920s would not compare with modern standards. Degradation is inevitable in such an item. After several intermittent and only temporary repairs the lighting systems were finally  removed on safety grounds in the 1990s. 

The cost of installing a new safe lighting system in such an ageing steel structure would surely be prohibitively high and the money better spent on commissioning a site-specific water-feature. A feature that, like the Victoria Fountain with its dolphins in the Old Steine, makes an aesthetically relevant  yet contemporary statement about the City.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Royal Alexandra Quarter

In 2004
In 2015. Converted to luxury flats 
10 years or so ago Thomas Lainson's Queen Ann style, red brick and terracotta children's hospital was looking sad and neglected and its future was in considerable doubt. Now, with its transformation into luxury flats, it is looking good once more. The removal of the top floor of the balconies has revealed more of the roof-line and provided a south-facing terrace. The exterior has been cleaned and renovated. It looks safe for another 100 years or so, by which time its history and architecture will, no doubt, be even more prized than it is today.

All three of the south-facing balcony flats  have been bought by one person who is combining them into one large apartment. BH2015/00533 refers.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Valley Gardens scheme - latest

The latest report on the Valley Gardens scheme, which received £8m of government funding last month, goes to the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on March 17. If approved, detailed technical design of road layouts and landscaping can begin and tendering invited from contractors.

The  scheme has at its core a radical simplification of of the roads layout as shown on the right. This is aimed at speeding up public transport and improving the cycling & pedestrian experience. It will also release marginally more open space and should reduce pollution.

The key elements involve routing general through traffic along the east side of the valley with buses, taxis and local traffic in a ‘park road’ to the west. There would be an improved network of cycle lanes and pedestrian routes. Car journey times should not increase since this is dictated by the capacity of junctions outside the scheme, not road space.  

Hundreds of trees will be planted, and green space increased to improve and revitalise the gardens. A new fountain will be sited in front of St. Peter's and southwards, a Sustainable Urban Drainage system, featuring street swales and water gardens, will help the city accommodate the impact of flash rainfall.  Also planned is a natural rill which will enhance wildlife habitats and reflect the Valley’s historic winterbourne characteristics. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Will we get a 'Puget's Lane'?

Architects' visualisation 
Next month the planning committee will be asked to decide applications BH2015/00575 & 6 for the demolition of the grade II listed 15 North Street (Timpsons) and the creation of a pedestrian link to the new Hanningtons Lane , which already has planning permission.

The gap provided by the demolition will be partly filled by a curved corner building (illustrated on the left) to provide a small retail unit on the ground floor and two flats extending into 14 North Street above. Pedestrians in North Street will be able to glimpse Puget's Cottage further down the Lane.  Pedestrians in the Lane and approaching North Street will see Chapel Royal framed by the Lane entrance.

Puget's Cottage behind will be fully restored externally. Other retail units will be provided opposite the Cottage at the rear of 16 North Street.

The other options considered and discounted are:-
  1. Widen the existing narrow alleyway to the east of no.15 by demolishing part of 14 North Street. This would unbalance the frontage of no.14 and require a dog-leg in the passage-way which would not be inviting to the casual passer-by.
  2. Provide a passageway through the ground-floor of no.15. This would seriously impair the architectural integrity of the building and be a focus for anti-social activity.
  3. Demolish part of 16 North Street which shares a party wall with no. 15. This would require practically rebuilding no.15.
The value of an attractive gateway to Hannington Lane and the rest of the Lanes at this point in North street cannot be overstated. No.15  is visually undistinguished and in poor condition, but is interesting on account of its age and is listed.  

The planning committee has a difficult decision to make.

East elevation of the proposed Puget's Lane

Architects: the Morgan Carn Partnership, Stanford Avenue, Brighton.

Modern architecture - Cliff Road

A terrace of 5 three-storey 4 bed houses and 1 three storey 3 bed dwelling house with associated parking areas, and sea views, in Cliff Road. They were designed in 2010 by Roger Fagg, Architect, of 4th Avenue, Hove. The 3 bed house at the west end eases the transition to the neighbouring less lofty houses.

The scheme favourably supplanted earlier proposals for a block of flats of the same height. It is difficult to imagine that this would have been equally attractive in this location; and, of course, some buyer would have had to have opted for the ground floor.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Sussex University - a Listed Building Heritage Partnership

Brighton & Hove City Council, the University of Sussex and English Heritage  are set to sign up to a Listed Building Heritage Partnership Agreement which will be the second such agreement in the country - and the first involving a university.

The University of Sussex was the first of a new wave of universities created in the early 1960s. The early buildings were designed by the celebrated architect, Sir Basil Spence, and include one Grade l and seven Grade II* listed buildings. They have many common design features, such as flat roofs, red brick and concrete arches. The fact that these buildings are listed in the two highest grades is a reflection of their considerable quality and significance. The University has continued to develop the site in sympathy with the early design and site layout.

The agreement will mean that Listed Building Consent for general or repeated work would be granted without the need for the university to individually apply for consent – cutting red tape and saving time and money. This includes work to repair or replace the external fabric of buildings, internal fixtures and finishes to upgrade teaching facilities and works to improve safety and accessibility.

The university has carried out best practice for such works for many years and contributed to the current guidelines for listed buildings on the campus. It currently makes several listed building consent applications every year.

The agreement would set conditions to ensure that work is carried out consistently using materials in keeping with buildings.

Samantha Johnson, Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas for English Heritage in the South East said: "Spence's buildings at Sussex University are an outstanding example of twentieth century architecture.  Spence's inspiration was from the classical forms of Ancient Rome.  At Sussex, the voids and spaces he created at Falmer House capture the idea of the ruinous condition of the Colosseum.  He was also influenced by Le Corbusier's Maisons Jaoul which is seen at Sussex in the concrete arches and austere red brickwork across the campus.  The buildings, which include the sculptural Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts and the beautiful meeting house with jewel like windows, create an exceptional 'set piece' around Fulton Court well worthy of its high designation. The LBHPA will be another tool to aid the long term conservation of this exceptional collection of buildings."

At a meeting on March 12 the committee will be recommended to give final approval for the agreement – if agreed it will be the second in the country and will run for 10 years, subject to periodic review.

The Gardner Arts Centre.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Palladium

The Palladium on King's Road was opened as the Alhambra theatre in 1888, converted to a cinema in 1914, closed in 1956 and demolished for the building of the Brighton Centre in 1963. On the left was Russell Street.

When a south-west gale was blowing it was very difficult to use the front doors and customers were invited to enter at the side door in Whitehall Yard on the right.

The site is now covered by the eastern end of the Brighton Centre