by Robert Nemeth
The story of Christchurch House in central Brighton is as much about a co-operative as it is about buildings.
‘Christchurch’, as this modern development amongst Regency townhouses in the centre of Brighton is also known, rose from the ruins of Christ Church during the 1980s. The church, known for its tall spire, was built in 1838 and demolished in 1982. Work on this most unique development of 11 flats, with facades on both Montpelier Road and Bedford Place, began in 1985 but came to a temporary halt in 1987 when the builders went bankrupt. It was completed in 1988.
Despite the presence of a myriad of pretty pot plants across numerous balconies, the two facades appear fortress-like. This is principally down to a distinctive street-facing fire escape on each that features what I see as modern takes on battlements and arrow slits. Parapets hide pitched roofs.
I was shown around by resident Helen Russell who is, like every resident of Christchurch, a member of Two Piers Housing Co-operative, the organisation that owns this and several other buildings around Brighton & Hove. Helen explained that every resident performs functions as member of the co-operative, as landlord and as tenant. I enjoyed chatting with this engaging piano teacher and marvelled at her enthusiasm for the co-operative movement. It is hard to disagree with the principles behind co-operatives, and on the clever design of her open-plan two-bedroom flat that opens onto the much-loved shared garden.
This inner courtyard between the two matching blocks is a miniature oasis that feels incredibly safe and welcoming. The cedar-clad courtyard-facing walls of the two blocks and various slate-look roofs that are on display, along with plants and a pond, provide a rural getaway for residents. The ‘gazebo’ is the central feature which acts a meeting room. A clever touch is that all of the living rooms face inwards so everybody gets to enjoy this space as much as possible. Bedrooms face the streets.
Architect Michael Blee has certainly created something different on this historic site and residents seem to be making the most of it though I do wonder what happens when somebody doesn’t do their fair share. Not everybody is so community-minded after all.
“CO-OPERATE or DIE” says a little badge that Helen stuck on my notebook. I guess that that is one way of dealing with people who don’t put their recycling out on the right day.