Archive for December, 2008

King Alfred Refusal

Almost every week, there is breaking news relating to the King Alfred project and, quite frankly, it has been hard to keep up. Now that the development in its Gehry incarnation has finally died, there really is a discussion to be had – and I have strong views on what should happen next.

A referendum should be held. The people of Brighton & Hove are so disillusioned with the whole process and it will take years to heal the damage that has been done. Giving residents a proper say in what happens around them is the first step towards pacification. I am happy to leave it to our elected representatives to decide exactly what should be voted upon though it should be a major element. "But having a referendum on this might set a precedent for other important proposals." Ermmm…that’s the idea, stupid!

Hove Marina was built in 1939 as a swimming centre to replace the nearby Medina Baths. However, it was immediately requisitioned at the outbreak of the Second World War as a training facility and commissioned as HMS King Alfred. 22,500 officers from all over the empire were trained in the building including my great-uncle, Robert Millar. After the war it was re-opened as a sports centre in August 1946 by Admiral Layton – and its new name stuck.

There have been calls for a new leisure centre for many years but the competition in which Karis/ING’s Frank Gehry towers scheme won wasn’t held until 2003. Karis/ING saw off designs from Wilkininson Eyre and Richard Rogers with a tall and colourful design that simply wasn’t suited to the surrounding architecture. It has bothered me that there has been much personal criticism of the three men who were perhaps most heavily involved – Josh Arghiros (the boss of Karis), Ken Bodfish (the Council Leader who initiated the project) and even Frank Gehry himself, perhaps the greatest living architect. Bringing world-class architects to Brighton & Hove is good news and it’s a shame that the previous administration got its brief so wrong. I’m sure that its aims were honourable though.

If local residents are to connect with local politicians, it is important for them to have a much bigger say in and, indeed, an opportunity to work on, what takes place locally. Consultation is vital too but it’s not enough – referenda would lead to that all-important sea change which is so badly needed.

54 Waterloo Street

Waterloo Street was named after the Battle of Waterloo that still would have been fresh in people’s minds when the road was laid out prior to 1825 as part of Brunswick Town.

No. 54 was once the home of the Robins family including Mike Robins, Brighton & Hove’s much-loved tour guide and former Custodian of St. Andrew’s Church. On one of his tours, Mike once pointed out to me the tombstone in St. Nicholas Churchyard of Ebenezer Robins who founded his successful brewing business in about 1820. The house is today the home of Paris and Meg Stone.

The five storey Regency building was commissioned in 1832 by Ebenezer as a wedding present for his son, also called Ebenezer. It was completed in 1833, in time for the wedding. The Robins offices and shop were in fact several doors down and the brewery was behind between Waterloo Street and Western Street (with entrances off each). When Paris and Meg bought the building in 2003, it was an absolute wreck as photos of the renovation project on the walls of the house now clearly attest. Channel 4’s Grand Designs programme was so impressed with the Stones’ home that it picked it as 13th best in the country.

The Stones always knew that the project would be large; it was bought as a wreck after all. Major work along the way included, well, pretty much everything possible. On top, is a roof terrace accessed via a delightful spiral staircase. The terrace provides a unique view of Embassy Court from behind; one that shows the parallel lines of the open walkways at the rear; something that is particularly striking at night when illuminated. Inside, the Stones’ furniture has been carefully chosen to respect the Regency pedigree of it surroundings. A fine Art Deco drinks cabinet is the exception to the rule though.

Meg has been advising Brighton & Hove City Council on its renovation of the Birdcage Bandstand but, more importantly, would like to run the café below herself when the works are complete. There certainly won’t be many people in the running with the same level of knowledge that Meg has of the Birdcage’s history and, indeed, with the same amount of love that Meg has for the City. Having sampled the culinary delights of Meg and Paris’ kitchen, I know that she is better qualified than anyone to get the job!