Archive for October, 2009

Brighton College & Gilbert Scott

We may not have secured Frank Gehry for the King Alfred but a variety of existing buildings by a number of architectural greats including Robert Adam, John Nash, Thomas Cubitt, Decimus Burton, Sir Charles Barry and Sir Edward Lutyens more than makes up for it. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s work at Brighton College is one such particularly fine example.

Last week, I gave an overview of Brighton College where Scott’s main school building was the first component to be built. In 1848, construction began on the imposing flint and Caen stone Gothic building in the Collegiate Gothic style (as opposed to the Tudor Gothic style of the newer gatehouse structure). A similar knapped flint building locally is the huge former Diocesan Training College for Headmistresses, today called the Brighton Business Centre, on the corner of Viaduct Road and Ditchling Road. It was built six years afterwards.

The Headmaster’s house was attached to the eastern end of the main building in 1854 and a chapel – with fantastic stained glass – was added by Scott in 1859. A distinctive brick and terracotta building was then built to the south in 1886-7. The great quadrangle scheme was never fully realised though which is a shame. Each building now has Grade II Listed status.

Scott is most famous for St. Pancras Station, the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park and the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford. But he also built Europe’s largest swimming pool, Brill’s Baths, in 1869 – in Brighton. The gentlemen’s baths on East Street included a circular pool which held 80,000 gallons of sea water but the building was demolished in the 1920s and the Savoy Theatre put in its place. His grandson, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was an architect too and is known for his work on Battersea Power Station, Bankside  Power Station (now the Tate Modern), the new House of Commons Chamber and, indeed, the red telephone box.

The saviour of Brighton & Hove’s Regency compositions, Antony Dale, was in fact an alumnus of Brighton College. It seems unimaginable now, but Brunswick Square was once seriously considered for demolition so Dale formed the Regency Society and the rest is history.

In the absence of vision from those building now, we should make the best of what we’ve already got – and that goes for Marlborough House by Robert Adam and St. Peter’s Church by Sir Charles Barry which are both derelict this very moment.

Brighton College Overview

Given that Sir George Gilbert Scott was the namesake of my own first school, it’s quite appropriate that I should now focus on the great man’s role in designing a local educational gem.

Brighton College was founded by William Aldwin Soames in 1845 and opened on Portland Place as the first public school in Sussex. The foundation stone of Scott’s Gothic flint building on Eastern Road was laid in 1848 by the Bishop of Chichester and work was complete a year later. A distinctive brick and terracotta building was added to the south in 1886-7, again in a Gothic style, to the designs of a student of Scott, Sir Thomas Graham Jackson.

The Headmaster of the day, originally the Principal, has a great opportunity to both preserve and progress. Much has changed over the years and much has stayed exactly as it was. Girls were admitted in 1973 for the first time and, by 1988, Brighton College was completely co-educational. Dr Anthony Seldon was the first Headmaster that I came across and it was hard not to be moved in some way by the strength of his vision. Richard Cairns now holds the reigns and has equally ambitious plans for the school – at home and abroad.

This column isn’t the place for a general debate on state education but there’s no doubt that architecture has a role to play. Gothic buildings with ecclesiastical overtones instill a sense of history anywhere so, for a student taking a short walk between lessons or with more time to spare at lunch, it must be impossible to forget the school’s illustrious history. And with this surely comes a sense of responsibility. Well-manicured gardens and, indeed, large sports fields are perfect places to blow off a little steam too which only helps.

Admittedly, intake must be a huge factor in achieving the ‘best A Level results of any co-educational school in England’ but glorious surroundings would appear to be essential too – Brighton College has huge similarities with the great colleges of Oxford and Cambridge.

Over the next month, I shall be looking at Sir George’s contribution and how modern additions tie in successfully or otherwise. Architecturally, I don’t know what he would make of my little concrete South London state primary. I am convinced, however, that he would be more than excited at what’s on the drawing board for Brighton College over the coming years.

Old Market Planning

Every time I pass the Old Market in Hove, there’s something going on. But despite the huge number of events held there, the building’s owners are in serious financial trouble.

The Old Market is owned and run by the Old Market Trust which was set up in 1997. The problems of today began when a number of unpredicted items during the initial conversion caused an overspend of £1.2 million. The Trust now hopes to construct two penthouse flats and sell them to eradicate as much of what is now a £1.1 million debt as possible. An application from the Trust was turned down in May and an appeal is now underway. However, a second application is to be considered on 15th October.

Charles Augustin Busby’s original market building opened in 1828 as a prized component of his Brunswick Town composition. It was not successful in its intended form and had become a riding school by the 1850s. Alfred Dupont ran the building from the 1870s and the success of his business continued well into the 20th century. 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.

The market was in fact a single storey structure and extra floors were added by the riding school. An unambitious yet fairly inoffensive extension was added in 1997. Both penthouse applications basically involve the addition of a new sleek glass floor onto the top of the building in a deliberately contrasting modern style.

I do wonder whether or not it is right to extend the building at all and also if another less radical design would be more appropriate. What will happen though if the Trust’s debts are not seen to and the building ends up derelict? These are issues which will no doubt be discussed on the 15th. If the venue was ever empty, I wouldn’t be too bothered but the fact remains, forgetting the debts from the 1990s for one moment, that the venture is viable on a day-to-day basis.

Stephen Neiman and Caroline Brown along with an exceptional in-house team work tirelessly to keep the Old Market above water. Although I think that the plans could be further improved, I’m acutely aware of what’s at stake. We certainly don’t want another Astoria or Hippodrome on our hands.

Channel Islands

I discovered to my pleasure that Guernsey does have a lot to write home about architecturally but, with four islands to visit in three days, there was little time for writing.

Around Guernsey, certainly on the twisting walk from the port to the pleasant Sausmarez Manor, there are proper buildings – Georgian, Victorian and even Art Deco structures. In a number of cases, neat Georgian stucco facades have been applied to older stone buildings, serving as a great demonstration of the lengths to which people would go, as they did in Brighton also, to follow the fashion of the day.

Last week, I wrote about the Jersey War Tunnels – a series of well-preserved military tunnels which have been turned into an impressive and engaging museum. Guernsey’s equivalent, the German Military Underground Hospital, consists of over a mile of cold, dark and wet passages. In their untouched state, they tell a story in a style entirely different to that of the modern museum. A tally is kept to ensure that nobody gets locked in overnight.

Jersey’s Glass Church with decorations by René Lalique was unbeatable but Guernsey’s Little Chapel must be one of a kind. It’s a tiny church – and it really is tiny. Every surface has been painstakingly covered with pebbles, seashells and broken pieces of china and glass.

I found it hard to find things which were attractive about nearby Alderney. Like the others, it is surrounded by dramatic cliffs (and has puffins on neighbouring Burhou) but there appears to be little more. The best bit was flying into the island’s charming scout hut-like airport on the tiniest of propeller planes.

We’d been playing a game to find the lowest digits on number plates native to each island. The concept was simple as each island’s plates follow a basic numbering system. The winners were J209, 215 and AY 16 on Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney respectively in case you were wondering. Sark, however, has no cars – only horses and tractors.

Made up of Great Sark and Little Sark (and, debatably, Brecqhou), Sark is the most breath-taking of the islands that we saw. Abandoned silver mines, the Window in the Rock and La Seigneurie are perfect attractions for such a tiny island and I will most definitely be returning.

Although there aren’t cars, I did see a tractor with the plate Robert 6. Perhaps it was named after Sark’s new biggest fan.