Phoenix Brighton

The Swiss artist and Bauhaus master, Johannes Itten, died in 1967 – one year before twelve of Waterloo Place’s fourteen important houses were demolished to make way for Wellesley House.

Wellesley House, today known as The Phoenix, made it onto Dr Anthony Seldon’s list of the “City’s Worst Ten Buildings” in his book Brave New City. “This building is ugly, dwarfs its neighbours and is an affront to St. Peter’s Church,” says Seldon. It certainly does dominate Nos. 1 and 2 Waterloo Place (the two buildings which survived the demolition) and the buildings of Richmond Terrace on the other side. But major modifications are planned. I recently met with development manager David Litchfield and from R H Partnership architect Philip Naylor who have recently submitted plans for the renovation of the building.

The Phoenix is home to over one hundred artists from painters and sculptors to performers and film-makers. I cynically asked how improving the building could result in anything other than higher rents for the artists. I was really missing the point of the exercise though which is actually about the generation of income for the benefit of the artists. The addition of a shop, commercial space, and a café/bar at ground floor will all be integral to that aim.

The Phoenix in its current form is hardly inviting. A curved terrace with seating will be created, essentially as an extension to the pavement out front, which will allow pedestrians to get much closer to the building. No extra floors are to be added on top of the six-storey structure but ‘ribbons’ and a radical new colour scheme will entirely transform the overall look. LEDS behind the ribbons on the front of the building will provide light at night and louvres between those on the back will shield the artists from sunlight during the day. The form of the ribbons and the choice of colours were inspired by the work of Itten.

The Phoenix’s location on the junction of two of Brighton’s roads, Lewes Road and Ditchling Road, is key to the funding of the project. A huge advertising banner on the building whilst works takes place will be viewed by thousands upon thousands of motorists and should provide around £1/2 million towards the scheme.

The planning application should be decided over the coming weeks and I look forward to a positive outcome. See www.phoenixarts.org for details of the plans.