Phase One Project, Oriental Place

A building that was recently shown to me by Andy Winter, Chief Executive of BHT, was the First Base Day Centre on Montpelier Place in central Brighton. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about that wonderful facility which serves as an open door haven for homeless and other vulnerable people. I met with Andy once again to see another BHT undertaking – the Phase One Project on Oriental Place.

Phase One consists of four Regency townhouses that were amalgamated during the 1930s. The combined structure was run as The St Ives Hotel until the owners retired in 1964, at which point it became a YWCA that was known as The Regency House Hotel.

The Regency Project, a photographic book by Richard Rowland, gives all sorts of clues as to the dreadful condition of the Grade II* listed buildings when BHT took over in 2002. It wasn’t long before works were planned to drag the establishment into the 21st century. Olli Blair of DRP Architects (now of ABIR Architects, a firm that I often mention) was responsible for planning the project which apparently ended up costing £2,622,213 (I don’t know how many pence).

There were 59 men in residence when BHT bought and many were able to stay during the works by means of dividing the project into two halves. Two of the four buildings were vacated and transformed, followed by the other two once their occupants had been moved across. Lath and plaster partitions, woodchip wallpaper and orange-stained decorative pine boards were all consigned to the skip. It is quite clear from Richard Rowland’s photographs, and from the friendly and dedicated BHT team, that the buildings were in a terrible state prior to the housing trust’s involvement.

Merging four townhouses into one gives rise to the inevitable problem of there being too many front doors and staircases, whilst original corridors run back-to-front, rather than across. In the case of Phase One, two of the front doors have been removed, but the extra staircases are really a blessing when it comes to fire precautions. As for corridors, on the ground floor at least, space has been taken from the large front rooms to create a logical thoroughfare between the buildings. It works.

BHT’s uncompromising drive to provide quality accommodation for the vulnerable, and Olli Blair’s architectural flair, proved a winning combination. A Sussex Heritage Trust Award and a Green Apple Award were certainly deserved.