Archive for April, 2013

Co-op London Road Demolition

I remember pressing my nose up against dirty glass from the outside when I wrote about the abandoned Co-op department store on Brighton’s London Road.

My own hope was that Brighton & Hove City Council would sell its palatial (well, on the outside anyway) seafront office – King’s House – and move into the Co-op. But this was not to be. It is now being torn down to make way for 351 student flats.

A chance meeting with acoustic consultant Daniel Goodhand, who certainly has his work cut out on this rather large demolition project, led to an introduction to project manager Simon Cowell from Watkin Jones, the Bangor-based developer of the scheme. Simon kindly agreed to a tour. Once I had donned hard hat, steel toe cap boots and high visibility jacket, I was ready to go.

I recall just a single trip into Co-op when it was actually trading and I remember nothing in the way of historical features. I imagined that the building consisted simply of a façade, with unremarkable concrete expanses behind.

We began the tour on London Terrace behind where two huge, and quite life-like, caterpillar-tracked demolition vehicles were tearing apart the rear or the building like steel dinosaurs. We slipped past them and headed towards the basement. It was on the winding steps down that I saw an intricate array of blue and orange tiles in what I identified as an Aztec theme.

An Aztec influence would fit with the building’s Art Deco heritage. It was built in 1931 to the designs of Bethell & Swannell. The wide façade features huge fluted Doric columns and will soon be held up by scaffolding alone. Although it is to be retained, it will be left separate from the new structure by means of a narrow void.

The stripping out of the old store is well progressed so many original features are on display including tiled floors which had been hidden for years. An old vault sits empty, save for a few locked safes beside a large bunch of keys. Rows of toilets sit beside each other without cubicles. Old signs remind staff that strangers could be thieves.

I could have happily spent hours investigating but I am grateful to have had this rare glimpse. It will almost all be gone soon so that the new building can rise from the ashes – in time for an August 2014 completion.


Green Architecture Day

It was five years ago, back in May 2008, that I wrote about my trip to Grand Designs Live. A central tenet of the exhibition was the construction in six days of The House That Kevin Built – which now returns as the Brighton ‘Waste House’.

I did briefly meet Kevin McCloud at the time but, more importantly to me, I recently met the designer of the house, Duncan Baker-Brown of BBM Architects. We were set to debate against each other at a Regency Society event on balancing conservation with eco-friendliness (though seemed to agree for much of it). Duncan has rejuvenated the project and will be presenting it to interested parties during Green Architecture Day on Saturday 27th April.

Green Architecture Day has been organised by Brighton Permaculture Trust to educate and inspire on the fascinating subject of self-build housing, It is set to take place at Brighton University’s Faculty of Arts where Duncan is a senior lecturer on architecture.

I have previously written about the work of Ian McKay of BBM in a piece about the Faculty of Arts. The glass and concrete Grand Parade campus was built to the designs of Borough Surveyor Percy Billington and opened in 1967. BBM completed a series of fitting additions in 2007 in their trademark eco-friendly style. The Waste House is being constructed on a forgotten corner of the campus, which is adjacent to William Street and Grand Parade Mews behind.

The project pulls together a number of different organisations including the university of Brighton, City College and Mears. The foundations are in and all manner of eco-friendly materials have been lined up by Cat Fletcher of Freegle for the walls, roof, insulation and other components. Whilst some of the materials are standard building products – albeit previously unwanted, such as second-hand bricks, others are less orthodox.

A myriad of discarded common objects are being lined up for use in the Waste House. Cat showed me her secret storage warehouse where all manner of superfluous items are kept. Everything from recycled timber and the legs from denim jeans, to video cassettes and polystyrene, will somehow be incorporated. Nothing will go to waste on this project.

Also on the day will be talks on straw bale construction, the use of natural materials, and many other related subjects, with a discussion to finish things off. See www.brightonpermaculture.org.uk to find out more about Green Architecture Day.


Verner Cross

It was over two years ago that I wrote about the impressive refurbishment of the Grade II listed seafront home of Pink Floyd rock god Dave Gilmour.

The location of the Hove mansion is no secret locally and the quality of the work clear to all. Ewan Stoddart of LCE Architects, the firm that was responsible for both the Jubilee Library and the Open Market, were behind the project with JCL as contractor and Master Builder Neil England as conservation sub-contractor. That same team is now close to completing another historic project for Mr Gilmour on a different building just around the corner.

The scheme essentially involves the major remodelling of what began as an artists’ studio into, as one might expect, a musicians’ studio. Until not that long ago, cars were being fixed in the quirky sunken single-storey structure which, like the house, is Grade II listed with views of the sea. The sleek ultra-modern design of the updated studio, now called ‘Medina Studio’, has attracted praise from many quarters but one element – a historic cross – has proved to be a bone of contention for Ewan and his team.

The stone cross in question is set into what appears to be the original back wall of one of the buildings on nearby Victoria Terrace. It serves as a memorial to Wilford Cole Verner who died of typhoid fever at the age of 26 on 21st November 1889. As Victoria Terrace was the family home, it seems unlikely that any bones are situated beneath the cross today. People don’t tend to get buried in their own back gardens after all.

During the works to the studio, it was found that the cross, in its original location, would be obscured by a small store. The council agreed to it being moved but a huge fuss was made about this seemingly sensible act being carried out. An expensive second planning application ensued which involved copious amounts of historic information being submitted about the history of the cross. Mr Wilford’s grandson, today aged 90, was even contacted to see if he was happy about the move. He had no objections apparently.

The council eventually agreed to the cross being moved which will also involve it being refurbished by Tilley’s Stonemasons. By the time that this piece is published, it should be residing in its new home on the west side of the studio.


Coach House, Eaton Road

I have mentioned the quality of the mews of Hove in the past. One of my favourites is Wilbury Grove which I have investigated many times before. It was only recently though that I discovered a hidden mini-mews, running parallel with Wilbury Grove, that serves just one house – which is currently for sale with Graves Jenkins.

The residence in question is situated on Eaton Road, to the west of Wilbury Grove, and appears to have been built within the curtilage of one of the grand mansions of The Drive. A pair of tall uninviting gates hide a 75ft-long private service road which extends across the hidden façade of the property, and that same distance again.

It may well be that the service road once served other buildings but this is difficult to ascertain as where it once might have ran is now dominated by the monstrous modern blocks of Grove Court and Bowen Court. Past these is the Courtlands Hotel, behind which there are old stables whose positions suggest that the mews did once serve a number of properties on The Drive.

‘The Coach House’ is an appropriate name for this unique detached dwelling given its previous connection with horses. This change of use is significant as it means that there is little in the way of original details inside. The best feature of the building is perhaps the gorgeous yellow brick from which it has been constructed; much of which has sadly been painted white. A golden rule of property is that brick should never be painted. Painting causes damps, looks awful and creates a maintenance headache. The paint should be removed to expose the lovely brick immediately.

The incredibly tired interior essentially consists of two large living spaces downstairs and four bedrooms upstairs. It could, and should, be entirely reconfigured. The staircase should be repositioned to create more useable space on both floors. A bedroom should be lost and an en-suite added.

I would flood the downstairs with light by replacing the entirety of the hidden façade with glass where wide stable doors would once have been located. I would increase privacy by carefully bricking-up the ground floor tavern-style window which opens directly onto the pavement but add windows upstairs to make proper use of views towards Grade I listed All Saints Church which is directly opposite.

I’ve got it all planned out. I now just need £475,000.