Archive for March, 2012

PortZED

Bill Dunster is perhaps best known as the architect behind Beddington Zero Energy Development – “BedZED” – in Hackbridge that was completed in 2002. As much as I was pleased to escape my home town of Croydon in 1998, I certainly would have been fascinated to see that scheme being built if I had stayed.

In conjunction with developer Colin Brace and architect Alan Phillips, Dunster has been working on an equally exciting scheme to bring hardcore eco construction to Hove. After a well-publicised and long-running planning battle, “PortZED”, was refused permission earlier this month. The proposal consisted of a series of six blocks of five-storeys on Kingsway (more storeys if measured from Basin Road North in Shoreham Port below).

Aesthetically, I do rather like PortZED but I do take the point that it is far too domineering in its current state. Worries about height and bulk can at least now be tackled by Colin and his team. As a Dunster scheme, it is no surprise that there are eco features aplenty. Most interestingly of these are the sets of helical wind turbines that are mounted between the buildings. The turbines can take full advantage of the city’s south-westerly wind due to the orientation of the blocks. Each faces the south-west in the way that a plane’s wing cuts through the skies ahead.

During the planning process, I have been somewhat fixated by what is going on between the proposed blocks; not so much because I am taken by the turbines, but more because I am adamant that views must be preserved. In this case, turning the buildings to the south-west reduces the precious views from Kingsway.

If I had to make a choice, I would pick a tall scheme with gaps over a low terraced scheme. After all, the low buildings to the east of the site offer no views whatsoever. As such, I will be campaigning for more to be made of the gaps between the blocks, which would involve removing clutter, but also for gaps to be left at either end of the site.

All things considered, it was correct of Brighton & Hove City Council to reject this application as it has some way to go before it is a development of which everybody – particularly those living nearby – can be proud. I have every confidence that the necessary adjustments will now be made to make this a reality.


Pepper Pot Restoration

“I think the Pepper Pot should be, like, a giant helter-skelter…because it’s kindof that shape.” Following the young girl’s wish, the Pepper Pot transformed into a giant slide. Seconds later, it became a café, a castle and then a lighthouse.

The Grade II listed Pepper Pot is thought to have been built as the water tower for a wonderful house of 1830, known as the Attree Villa, that was destroyed in 1972 in what was one of the worst architectural crimes in local history. After years of neglect, and a rather unpleasant peach/thistle paint-job, the Pepper Pot’s fortunes changed when a council grant of £70,000 was pumped into its restoration.

The tour that I was given by Alex Sutton-Vane from volunteer group Friends of the Pepper Pot was a most unexpected eye-opener. The ground floor is reached via a door in the structure’s octagonal base. A rickety ladder leads to a mezzanine level and then another to the first floor. By the second floor, it is clear that the upper portions of the building are decagonal, rather than octagonal, which is easily verified externally by a quick count of the building’s Corinthian pillars. The second floor is flooded with light from its ten windows but the real treat is the third floor where a brick dome and incredible panoramic views from a set of tiny square windows delight.

When Brighton Corporation took ownership of the Pepper Pot in 1892, it was used for storage and then as a public toilet, a base for air raid wardens, a Scout hut and an artists’ studio. Rather bizarrely, a non-original cast iron sewer vent runs through its centre.

The restoration has raised all sorts of interesting questions about the Pepper Pot’s past. My old Regency Society friends Neil England and Nick Tyson have spent hours researching the origins of the large blocks from which the curious folly is constructed. The peculiar material turned out to be an early form of artificial stone called Ranger’s Lime Concrete which was developed by William Ranger.

The young girl who wanted a helter-skelter put across her views during an incredible light show by Shared Space and Light that took place during White Night last year, after the scaffolding had come down. The options for future uses are still very much open.

See www.pepperpot.info for a video of the show that has to be seen to be believed.


Cliftons

The site of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children on Dyke Road has had more than its fair share of publicity in recent years. If only its developers had paid more attention to the building work taking place across the road on the hospital’s former car park.

The car park, said to have once been home to Vine’s Mill, was sold off as part of the hospital redevelopment and came into the charge of River Oaks Homes in 2008, one year after that firm bought the three Italianate villas to the west, Nos. 5, 6 and 7 Powis Villas.

Regular readers should know that I am a huge fan of ‘planning briefs’ – plans that set out a general framework for the development of a sensitive site. Difficulties at so many sites locally, including that of the Royal Alex itself, could have been nipped in the bud if the council had taken the trouble to pro-actively put in place planning briefs to set out exactly what should be built. Whether it be Brighton Marina, the Queen Square ice rink or Shoreham Harbour, without a planning brief in each case, developers have upset residents by proposing something inappropriate.

In the case of the car park, the developer has got the general principle exactly right without such heavy-handed persuasion being necessary. Rather than more higgledy-piggledy blocks of flats, like those under construction on the hospital site across the road, the car park is now home to five incredible houses. Three face Clifton Hill and two face Powis Grove, just like they would have done if they had been built in the 1850s like their neighbours. The local architectural practice Morgan Carn did not resort to pastiche though – or ‘fake old buildings’ as I like to call such dreary creations – but instead have built the modern equivalent of an Italianate Victorian villa.

White render and grey roofs, whose colours may be attributed to dirt-repelling paint and zinc cladding respectively, may be seen as nods to the past but there are many explicitly modern features as well such as solar thermal panels, underfloor heating, instant boiling water taps and a shared underground car park.

River Oaks Homes has produced its own glossy brochures that describe how incredible these four-storey three-bedroom homes, named The Cliftons, really are. These sleek houses should be seen in the flesh though, particularly by other developers, to be truly appreciated.


Bond Street Laine

The question of lane or laine is a rite of passage for anybody getting to know Brighton. Without local knowledge, a fair assumption would be that ‘laine’ is the Brighton word for ‘lane’. After all, the words sound the same and each is assigned to a quirky shopping area. To understand the difference though is to understand the origins of modern day Brighton.

The truth is that there is a connection but the link is the Old Town. Laines were the fields that once surrounded Brighton and there were five of them – North Laine, West Laine, East Laine, Hilly Laine and Little Laine. We now call the Brighton of that time ‘the Old Town’, the centrepiece of which is now called ‘the Lanes’ on account of the various alleyways that characterise the spot.

When I wrote to the Argus newspaper in August last year about Brighton & Hove City Council itself getting the laine/lane question wrong, I had no idea that it would lead to the mobilisation of the Brighton Society to set the record straight.

Four narrow passageways lead from the west side of Bond Street in the North Laine area. The first and second are called Bond Street Row and Bond Street Cottages respectively; and the third is called, technically anyway, Bond Street Laine. ‘Laine’ should not have been used as the narrow thoroughfare is a ‘lane’, not a field. It should be ‘Bond Street Lane’. I wasn’t the first to spot the error.

Eagle-eyed Brighton Society campaigner Delia Ives approached the council in 2008 and succeeded in getting the physical road sign corrected. As the official name remained the same though, it was only a matter of time before the road sign was changed back to ‘Laine’. This is what I saw.

Following my letter, Delia took up the case again. After winning the battle previously, she set out to win the war by persuading the council to change the alley’s name properly. Whilst a wrong will be righted once Bond Street Laine becomes Bond Street Lane, the council should have known better.

I mentioned earlier four alleys and the names of just three. Just as my letter led to the renaming of the third passageway, I hope that this column will plant an idea for the naming of the forgotten fourth. Bond Street Twitten, to make use of another old Sussex word, would get my vote.