Astra House

The Art Deco mansion block Astra House towers over its Regency neighbours on the Brighton seafront. But it actually took the place of a similarly tall Victorian building called the New Club.

The Palladian-style five-storey New Club replaced Nos. 133 and 134 Kings Road in 1876. Its ceiling heights must have been incredibly generous as it looked down on the surrounding buildings, even though they had the same number of floors. The architect was Thomas Lainson who was also responsible for the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Middle Street Synagogue and what is now Hove Museum.

The New Club was demolished in 1937, at a young age, to make way for Astra House which was completed in 1938. Although Astra House is ten storeys high, it isn’t that much taller than the five-storey building that it replaced. It is instantly recognisable as a 1930s Art Deco block but there are Victorian influences such as angled bays on its Preston Street façade, timber sash windows and a yellow-brick exterior. It was built slightly back from the building line, perhaps in preparation for a widening of Kings Road.

Astra House consists of commercial premises at ground level with 61 flats above. The flats are spread over seven principal floors with two penthouse-style floors up top. Each side of the building offers a very different view such as those over Hove Lawns, Regency Square or the Palace Pier.

I am particularly fond of the building’s two-colour terrazzo floors and staircases, and of its distinctive cast-iron radiators that line the hallways. Heating and hot water are provided communally from a large plant room in the basement which can be identified by a large corner chimney at the rear of the building.

One interesting detail is the two large chimney stacks on the side of the building. Although they have been built in the style of Astra House, they actually serve the neighbouring property, just as the Modernist chimney stacks on the side of Embassy Court actually serve 1 Brunswick Terrace.

There is still some way to go before Astra House is recognised in the same way that others of its era have been such as Furze Croft or 4 Grand Avenue. Hamish Aitchison, Norma Binnie and other Astra House flat owners have done well to embark upon the current programme of restoration. It is going to be a long process but it will be worth it.