Archive for April, 2009

Old Market Penthouse Plans

However much we wish it wasn’t so, it’s extremely difficult to keep historic buildings in their original forms and expect them to remain viable.

Finding new ways to use buildings from the past needn’t be a chore. Some of our best buildings locally are now used even more effectively than they were originally. The Hanbury Club began as the tomb of the Sassoon family; the Dome began as the Prince Regent’s stables; King’s House, the Council’s headquarters, began as seven townhouses; and the Komedia began as a supermarket. Each in its original form is close to unimaginable.

The Old Market, tucked away in the heart of Brunswick Town, has had a variety of uses over the years. As its name suggests, it began as a market and it opened for business in 1828. The venture was a complete failure though and by the 1850s the building had become a riding school. Alfred Dupont took over in the 1870s and transformed the structure entirely. Floors were added and extensions built. The success of Dupont’s Riding Academy continued well into the 20th century, long after the great man died. During the 1950s, bacon and ham were smoked there; during the 1960s, it was used as a warehouse; and, since the 1970s, it has been used as an arts centre in various forms. Thankfully, some degree of protection was added when it was awarded Grade II Listed status in 1971.

When I write about modern buildings, I struggle to think of examples of excellence in Brighton & Hove. Only the Jubilee Library by Lomax Cassidy Edwards gets a regular mention. I was surprised when Nick Lomax told me about his firm’s plans to build two glass penthouses on the roof of the Old Market but, at least, relieved that he had been selected as architect.

Although the Old Market breaks even on a day-to-day basis, historic debts (said to be in the region of £900,000) have become too burdensome. If the radical development doesn’t go ahead, the venue may well close and who knows what might become of the building then? On the other hand, the modern extension would irreversibly alter the historic building for good.

I have such respect for those behind the important work that goes on at the Old Market that I am keen to look upon these plans as positively as possible. It is going to be tough though.


Influence of Egypt on Art Deco Design

The unearthing of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 was said to be a curse. But, for the Art Deco movement, it was nothing but a blessing.

When Howard Carter and his team discovered Tutankhamen and the many treasures surrounding the young pharaoh, Egyptomania gripped the world. Rumours of a curse following the untimely demise of his sponsor, Lord Caernarvon, simply added to the furore.

It was still early days for Art Deco which took its name (in the 1960s in fact) from the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative & Industrial Art that was held in Paris in 1925. Whilst defining the distinct style, the great designers of the day became enchanted by the rich colours, distinct angular shapes, hieroglyphic characters and mysterious symbols presented by ancient Egypt. These features were unmistakable in Art Deco furniture, art, clothing, jewellery and, most importantly for me, architecture.

In London, there are a great number of buildings influenced by ancient Egypt; the most famous being perhaps the temple-like Hoover Building on the A40. More obvious are the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square which has grand Egyptian columns, and Highgate Cemetery’s Egyptian circle which has obelixes and sphinxes on the various tombs.

Many of the Art Deco buildings in central Brighton have subtle Egyptian features such as those on West Street (west side) and Western Road (north side). The stepped facades on several of these buildings are based on both pyramids and temples. Pylons are the monumental gateways to the temples of ancient Egypt and are clearly represented too. On the outskirts of Brighton, these features can clearly be seen on The Pylons, the two welcoming boundary pillars on the London Road which date from 1928. The temple-like Sussex Masonic Centre of 1928 on Queen’s Road, inside anyway, is the most ornate of all. The colour of the shades on its giant stairwell chandelier? Nile green!

Along with a great number of Art Deco buildings locally, we are blessed with frequent talks and lectures on the subject. On top of that, Brighton Museum has an enviable collection of 20th century furniture and, since 28th March, a dedicated Ancient Egypt exhibition.

Sarah Tobias is an established lecturer and general authority on all things Art Deco. I’ve so far had the pleasure of attending two of her talks and certainly intend on going again. Please contact Sarah on sarah.tobias@ic24.net for details of future events.


Breweries

The Rock Brewery – smashed apart. The Anchor Brewery – dropped to the ground. The Phoenix Brewery – unlikely to be rising from the rubble. The long list of the great breweries of Brighton, Hove and Portslade is a series of obituaries.

Whilst preparing to research the history of the Duke of York’s Picture House recently, I remembered that the site had once been home to a massive brewery. The brewery must have been large for it also encompassed the land on which Preston Circus Fire Station stands today. There was once a number of breweries locally and I’ve inadvertently written about many of them previously whilst focusing on what the sites are used for now.

Even at the top of my road in Hove, there was a brewery. It stood at the top of Osborne Villas (Osborne Street at the time) and extended into Church Road like a ‘bunion’. It was demolished to aid traffic flow. Another example, Portslade Brewery, is a towering yellow brick building in the Old Village that is today home to Le Carbone, a French manufacturer of specialist electrical products. Thankfully, the entire main building remains intact. In Brighton, reminders remain of the Phoenix Brewery which was just off the Lewes Road behind Richmond Terrace. Tamplin Terrace, Malthouse Lane, Phoenix Place, and, indeed, the Phoenix Brewery Halls of Residence were all named after the successful business when the site was ‘developed’.

Although Cologne is four times the size or Brighton & Hove, it is interesting to compare the two. With Germany third in the world and the UK sixth in terms of beer drunk per capita, one would expect similarities in scales of production. On a recent trip to Cologne, however, I discovered the city boasts fourteen brewers of Kölsch, the local brew, alone. I’m not aware of any breweries operating in Brighton & Hove today.

Much alcohol is consumed in Brighton every night but where does it all come from? The award-winning vineyards of Sussex are now competing internationally and Harveys in Lewes is, of course, a local success story but the majority of what is drunk locally is by no means local.

At a time when Brighton’s industry is pretty much all gone and local produce is, on the surface anyway, desirable, it would be great to see more local producers. Is it red tape, competition law, health & safety law or just consumers’ drinking habits?