68 Middle Street

The spotlight really was on Middle Street, in the heart of the Old Town of Brighton, when the Rolling Stones played a gig at the Hippodrome in 1964. That building began as an ice-rink in 1897, and was converted into a variety theatre by Frank Matcham in 1901.

The Synagogue was built not long before to the designs of prolific local architect Thomas Lainson. 20 Middle Street was once home to William Friese-Greene, the inventor of cinematography. These are buildings with serious history. It is not surprising that I never even noticed No. 68.

Until recently, 68 Middle Street simply faded into the background. Its dull cream facade was designed to simply fit in. It was neither proud nor embarrassed. It had no personality at all. The building was recently introduced to Clearleft, the Brighton-based website designers, by property finder (and former Latest Homes columnist!) James Oliver. The plain building, which dates from 1969, was essentially a four-storey 6,000sqft blank canvass. Architect Martin Landivar was just the man to transform it into something special.

Thanks to the guys at Levitt Construction, the whole fa├žade is now dark grey. It doesn’t stand out but it’s no longer hiding away either. Inside, each floor has been totally stripped out for a very honest look. Concrete floors have been exposed and polished. Walls have been lined with birch-faced ply. Cable conduits are stainless steel. Unpainted copper water pipes are proudly displayed in the toilets. Rather than taps though, there are industrial-style shut-off levers.

The biggest changes have been structural. Rather than simply looking over the sky-lights of the ground floor roof, the first floor now opens right onto a whole new roof area that has been covered in artificial turf. Best of all though is the removal of a large part of the concrete ceiling of the first floor to create a double-height atrium area.

A Ministry of Pensions building once occupied the site. This became the Astra Club in 1924. By 1926, it was the Brighton Club and then, in 1928, the Piccadilly Club. Next, it was home to Grey Coaches Ltd. The guys at Clearleft have brought fun back to the site. There is already table tennis in the large room at the back of the ground floor – but there are plans in the pipeline for a climbing wall, slide and perhaps even a fireman’s pole. See www.68middle.st for details.

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