Archive for February, 2012

Exhibition Road

Whether it is called ‘Shared Space’, ‘Shared Streets’ or ‘designing for negotiation’, the principle remains the same. By blurring the designation between pavements and roads, the experience for pedestrians can be hugely improved, without total detriment to motorists.

New Road in Brighton re-opened in 2007 after £1 million was spent on improvement works. The scheme, by Landscape Projects and Gehl Architects, embraced the shared space concept. Pedestrians love it; motorists can at least use it. One of the country’s most significant streets, Exhibition Road in South Kensington, has just undergone similar treatment.

Exhibition Road takes its name from the Great Exhibition of 1851, from which surplus funds were used to build what are now known as the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum. These three majestic museums, along with the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College and many other noble institutions populate the area – as do millions of visitors every year.

The remodelled Exhibition Road was opened to much acclaim on 1st February 2012, on time and on budget. Admittedly, that budget was £29 million. As is the case with New Road, tarmac and concrete have been replaced with granite; continuity instead of curbs. Lamp posts remain though they are now called ‘street lighting masts’, whatever that means (presumably that is where some of the PR budget went).

I visited Exhibition Road during half-term when there were kids aplenty. Whilst it is a huge improvement on the traffic-ridden thoroughfare that I remember as a child, it is no New Road. Whilst black diagonal lines provide relief from the rather bland grey blocks, it is just not exciting. New Road has few cars. Exhibition Road has a constant stream of vehicles, and dozens more in residents’ parking bays. Annoyingly of all, its lamp posts have large raised bases, in total contradiction of the no-clutter rule.

To be constructive, I would advocate that Exhibition Road should have been made one-way and the suggested area for cars should have weaved from side to side, rather than being straight like a normal road. Each may well have encouraged more sharing. Admittedly, the speed limit has been lowered to 20mph, but this is just not enough.

Shared Space may be attributed to the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman who died in 2008. Exhibition Road, as an exhibition for the concept, needed just that little bit extra to really do his memory justice.


Co-op London Road

The principles of co-operative working are timeless but its modern day form may be traced back to the lessons of Robert Owen in Newtown. Owen’s venture was ultimately unsuccessful but the principles lived on in the writings of a Brightonian, Dr William King, in his paper The Co-operator.

King was heavily involved in the formation of the Brighton Co-operative Benevolent Fund Association in 1827 which went on to open England’s first co-operative retail store at 31 West Street the following year. Another co-operative organisation, the Brighton Co-operative Society, was founded in 1887. Key to this story was its purchase of 96 London Road as an office in 1900 and purchase of Nos. 97-101 not long afterwards. In around 1919, a single large store had been created.

The whole lot, Nos. 96-101, along with a rather handsome classically-inspired villa, No. 95, were demolished to make way for a giant new Co-operative superstore that opened in 1931 to the designs of Bethell & Swannell. The 180ft façade is indeed wide but with four storeys and massive fluted Doric columns, it is incredibly imposing.

1962 saw the opening of the food halls behind on Baker Street. Other extensions followed in 1975 and 1980, which presumably correspond, in no particular order, to the acquirement of an attractive adjoining villa to the north, No. 94, and the adjoining low terraced buildings to the south, Nos. 102-103. The substantial superstore today encompasses Nos. 94-103.

February 2012 is an anniversary for Co-op’s great London Road superstore, for it closed five years ago and has sat empty ever since. The extensions to either side and behind let the building down architecturally, as do its plastic replacement windows, but neither causes as much concern as the rust that is starting to dominate its grand façade.

It is certainly encouraging that the development of the Open Market nearby offers real opportunities for the empty building. It is little surprise that demolition followed by the construction of grotty student housing has been suggested but this should not be allowed.

If it were up to me, the building would become the new home of Brighton & Hove City Council following the sale of King’s House and the construction of the tower that was planned for the original Hove Town Hall. Such a plan would be ambitious but, as Dr King once showed, Brighton need not be at all shy in thinking big.


61 Brunswick Street West

I saw the back of 61 Brunswick Street West before its front and was instantly curious.

The story starts at the home of my late dear friend, Mike Robins, at 33a Brunswick Square, a house with its own concealed entrance and no frontage. Its front door is tucked away within the entranceway of 33 Brunswick Square, which offers a great clue as to its origins. I can but assume that No. 33a was once part of No. 33 in what must be the largest Regency house ever built in what is now Hove.

33a Brunswick may well have no façade but it does have an incredibly imposing rear elevation that is characterised by a grand curved bay – that may be viewed in luxury from a hidden and unexpected garden behind. Backing onto the opposite side of this secret oasis are three striking modern townhouses.

It is sadly the case that we are blessed with little in the way of quality contemporary architecture locally. It is always a pleasure, therefore, to be able to add another development to the short list of buildings.

61-65 Brunswick Street West were completed in 2007 and designed by Alan Phillips. With four storeys and four bedrooms apiece, the three houses are large but, despite their height and advanced design, are entirely respectful towards their elderly neighbours. One mark of respect is a curved protruding window in the form of a semi-circular bay; a modern interpretation of the distinctive Regency bow. An exposed frame is a shared feature on both the front and rear of the buildings, as is an abundance of glass.

Within, no space at all is wasted. The ground and first floors contain the living areas; the second and third floors contain the bedrooms. Inside No. 61, knowing that the third floor was the top floor, I was a little curious as to why the staircase did not stop there. This was easily explained by a little lever that is pulled to open a great hatch onto the massive roof terrace. No space is wasted outside either.

The brief list of decent modern buildings locally includes the Jubilee Library, Earthship Brighton and 1a Whichelo Place, along with 15 Lloyd Close and a few other houses in Hove Park. With a dearth of such buildings, it is rare for one to come up for sale. Nash Watson is marketing 61 Brunswick Street West now.


Small Batch Coffee, Wilbury Road

At 55m2 and with striking innards, the Small Batch Coffee Company on Wilbury Road in Hove is both small and perfectly formed. The two qualities made it an ideal candidate for the World Architecture News Retail Interiors Awards 2011 in the less than 200m2 category.

I know the Goldstone Villas branch of Small Batch well as I pass it almost every day on my way to the station. The Wilbury branch looks totally different though, having been created in parallel with an ambitious rebranding exercise that was also embraced in the design of the firm’s newest branch on Jubilee Street in Brighton, and in the update of the Small Batch coffee carts outside both Hove Station and Brighton Station.

Paul Nicholson and Damon Webb of Chalk Architecture really have carved out a niche for themselves in creating luscious commercial interiors, often in a hospitality setting. Whether it be the Connaught Pub on Hove Street, Yellowave Barefoot Cafe on Madeira Drive, Molly Malone’s on West Street, or the Dyke Road Tavern on, well, Dyke Road, Chalk’s interiors never fail to impress.

The Wilbury interior is both moody and welcoming, and is characterised by quality dark hardwood throughout; Teak on the floors, Panga Panga on the walls and counter. The remaining surfaces are either covered with grey high-gloss porcelain tiles or dark grey paint. Seating includes slightly creepy Phillipe Starck Golden Gnome stools, and a set of custom Chalk-designed chairs (which appear in the window of Chalk’s new shopfront on Tidy Street in the North Laine) that incorporate the new Small Batch logo.

Wilbury Road itself consists of a series of large late-Victorian villas. By fronting that road, Small Batch is slightly off the beaten track of Church Road (though its address is technically 67 Church Road). Some of my favourite buildings in the whole of Brighton & Hove are on Wilbury including Toad Hall and Wilbury Lawn (not forgetting every single mews house on Wilbury Grove). The dark painted exterior of Small Batch fits in well and includes the new logo which can be seen clearly from Church Road. I was taken by the interior but I adore the logo above all else which Paul described by text message as “3 domes, a la pavilion”.

World Architecture News must have been impressed too with the whole project, when Small Batch on Wilbury Road was Shortlisted for its prestigious Retail Interiors Award.

Photo by Jim Stephenson

Photo by Jim Stephenson