Embassy Court Works

It was ten years ago that work started on transforming Embassy Court from one of the most hated buildings in Brighton & Hove into one of the most appreciated.

In 2004, it would have been hard to imagine Embassy Court in its original 1930s glory. Flats were all rented initially, and rents were once £500 per year, which was incredibly high considering that a whole house in Peacehaven could be purchased for £300 at that time. Successive difficult freeholders and leaseholders were responsible for the decline of the building. It wasn’t until 1998 that the leaseholders, led by Hilary Imbimbo, were able to wrench the freehold away from the freeholder of the day, Portvale Ltd.

It was some years before further legal wrangles could be overcome, and funds raised to overhaul the famously-deteriorating rust-stained exterior. The 2004/5 works, carried out by architects Conran & Partners, cost something in the region of £5 million. Flats were then regularly popping up at auction for £50,000. They are now each worth well over £300,000.

The determination of the leaseholders of Embassy Court must be praised. A number of problems remain though despite attempts to fix them in 2013. One leaseholder, who loves the building so much that he has constructed a scale model of it in Lego in his lounge, feels that several basic errors were made in the 2004/5 works. One example is that balcony doors were changed to open inwards rather than outwards. Water now floods in. The number of panes of glass per door/window was increased leaving more gaps for water to attack.

Another particular error relates to some rather attractive mauve terracotta tiles that line the parapet wall of each balcony around the building. Apparently, it was noticed early on that each expands which means a lot of movement beneath balcony windows when a whole row moves. It is thought that Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School in Germany, was brought in to investigate after the problem was noticed during the hot summer of 1936. The problem was rectified at the time by changing certain window details but then recreated in 2004/5. It is yet to be remedied for a second time.

The involvement of Gropius – one of the founding fathers of modernist architecture – was not unexpected. After escaping Germany, he lived in the distinctive Isokon building in London, also by Wells Coates, the architect of Embassy Court.