Archive for September, 2014

Hidden House, Hove

A tall wall with a gate on a service road in Hove entirely obscures an upside-down two-storey house.

I do love a hidden house. One example is 1a Whichelo Place in Hanover, an eco-home that is surrounded by something like 30 other houses – but it can’t be seen from the street. The front door of another, 33a Brunswick Square in Brunswick Town, can easily be seen by passers-by. But that’s all that can be seen. The rest, including all of its windows, is tucked away behind.

The subterranean fascinates me too. I wrote about the vaults of the Chapel Royal on North Street in Brighton years back. It was to become a bar but still sits empty, I think. Another example, the cellars of the old Brighton Steam Brewery, survives beneath Church Road and Osborne Villas in Cliftonville. The signs are there if you know where to look.

Last year sometime, two friends showed me their home, which is both hidden…and subterranean. The aforementioned gate leads into a small yard and towards a front door. Behind the door is a bright kitchen/lounge area. A spiral staircase leads downstairs to a large lower floor that extends beneath the whole house. Light floods in through a courtyard of aluminium windows. I like it that nobody knows that the house is there; let alone that it is two-storey and covered in glass and metal.

The history of the site is a little murky but, taking an educated guess, the story begins with a Victorian three-storey terraced house on a main road with a rear garden. The plot is level but the land around it rises steeply which means that the road at the rear is approximately one storey above the road at the front. The building presumably became offices at some point and a ground floor extension was built over the entire rear garden.

The whole site was bought in 2003 from solicitors Tisdall Nelson Nari & Co by a local property developer called Steven Sparks who modified an existing planning approval to create a new hidden house at the rear. I do know that Sparks changed the design from neo-Georgian to ultra-modern. Finding this out though took so long that my two friends moved ages ago.

I have yet to chat properly with the current residents – hence not mentioning its precise location. I’ll be impressed if anyone else knows where it is.

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Westminster House

Fed up with leasehold property, Brighton resident Jian Farhoumand set out to buy a freehold property in Newhaven after being charmed by a friend’s house in the heart of the town. When he heard that the old NatWest building on the High Street had just come on the market, he snapped it up.

One can be forgiven for not knowing that Newhaven even has a high street. A dreary one-way system and over-promoted retail park see to it that few visitors actually stop to explore the heart of Newhaven. The old bank, dubbed ‘Westminster House’ by Jian, occupies a large and prominent corner plot at the foot of the High Street but has sat empty for around four years.

A stone shield on the Grade II listed building’s façade hints at its origins. Two diagonally-opposite corners display the flag of the City of London; the other two contain martlets which appear on the emblem of Sussex. With this in mind, the building was undoubtedly a branch of the London and County Bank (which merged with the London and Westminster Bank in 1909 to become the London County and Westminster Bank). By 1970, after several more acquisitions and mergers, it had become NatWest.

64 Western Road in Hove, on the Holland Road corner, is a similar structure. It has two entrances – one for the bank and one for the floors above. It features sandstone on the façade at ground level and red brick on the two floors above. And it has a large basement along with generously-proportioned attic rooms at the top. That building is today a restaurant but it also began as a branch of the London and County Bank.

During my tour, Jian pointed out that each entrance actually has its own postcode. At that point, his plan was to rent out the ground floor, and presumably basement, on a commercial basis. The three floors above were to become residential again, which was their principal use throughout much of the building’s life.

The harbourmaster of Newhaven is said to have lived at the top on account of its views across the harbour. The building’s dumb waiter, which could easily be brought back into operation, may well have been used for his food.

Since my visit, Jian has won planning permission to turn Westminster House into…a house. At over 4,000sqft, I’m banking on it becoming the finest residence in Newhaven.

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Circus Street Update

A planning application from developers Cathedral Group for the redevelopment of Brighton’s old municipal market on Circus Street will shortly be put to Brighton & Hove City Council’s Planning Committee.

The mixed-use scheme consists of standard, social and student housing, dance studios, a library, a public square, underground parking and 78 new trees. Everything that’s on the site currently would go. Despite the obvious benefits, both the Regency Society and Brighton Society – two of the city’s most respected amenity groups – have firmly objected on the grounds of density, noise and overlooking.

Cathedral Group were first picked nine years ago as developer to work alongside the council and the University of Brighton to deliver the scheme. What is now the huge practice of John McAslan & Partners were picked as architects initially (not long after I met McAlsan himself at a Regency Society lecture funnily enough). The fast-expanding (and bizarrely-named) practice of “shedkm” took over two years ago following a reselection process. I met up with the project’s Lead Architect, Lee Halligan, for a tour of the derelict market and an update on the project generally.

To really understand this project, one has to look back to the days when the streets of Carlton Hill (at the foot of which the municipal market is located) resembled those of the North Laine. The area was actually called Hilly Laine. There is no way through the site currently but the proposed development offers several routes that are based on the original Hilly Laine layout. Similarly, Circus Street, which is incredibly wide currently to allow for truck movements no doubt, is to be narrowed to close to its original width.

The site itself is a real challenge. The rear is 7.2m higher than the front and it is surrounded by a menagerie of different building types including Georgian houses, 1930s social housing, ‘1960s tower blocks, the reclad police station, the old Amex building and a variety of old factories. A range of heights and styles, including black gabled house-like structures, has been employed in response.

It is no doubt the case that mistakes were made when removing the slums of old. The demolished buildings would have made great homes today. I see the fairly tall – yet accessible and exciting – style of the proposed new development as correcting these mistakes and setting the benchmark for what a Carlton Hill of the future will look like.

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Bali

Upon arrival, visitors to Bali, especially those arriving at night, receive little in the way of a friendly welcome. The airport feels tired, the queues are long, the taxi queue is chaos, and the street-lighting is sparse. The next morning is an entirely different story.

Waking up in Bali is a quite wonderful experience as I found out during a recent trip to the town of Seminyak on the island’s south-west coast for my brother’s wedding. Along with the fine weather and general delightfulness of the Balinese, the architecture is fascinating. It is not overwhelming like, say, Manhattan, but is so different from Brighton & Hove, and in such abundance, that my mind raced constantly.

After three flights and a dreadful two days in frightful Dubai, I arrived for my brother’s stag night with minutes to spare. This involved a trip to Kuta (Bali’s Magaluf). When the others were drinking, I was examining the beach wall. The ornately-carved stone structure, not dissimilar to the front wall of a temple, is formed from andesite, the local igneous rock. It got me thinking that perhaps Bali’s wonderful built environment dates from at least a couple of hundred years ago.

Whilst passing similar walls which served as the front boundaries of various shops and community temples the next morning, I asked our Balinese taxi driver the age of one very fine example. The dark stone reminded me of the blackened Georgian stone of London which had survived the industrial revolution, war and years of wear and tear. In England, finding somebody to build such a wall would be difficult. I estimated that a similar wall, the width of a house, might cost something in the region of £40,000 in England. The taxi driver mentioned that it had been built two years ago, and cost tens of millions of Indonesian Rupiah – just hundreds of British Pounds.

I particularly liked the modern buildings of Bali – hotels, restaurants and boutiques –which tend to be owned by the Chinese, Australians, French or Italians apparently. Potato Head Beach Club (Bali’s equivalent of Mahiki) is respectful (architecturally anyway) and features palm trees and teak throughout. The same goes for the boutiques in the Oberoi area.

There are temples everywhere. In Seminyak, not far off every other building is a temple or shrine. Some serve a single family, others a street, community or region. I could explore for months.

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