Archive for November, 2014

Riverside Wharf

Last week, I wrote about Jane Wood who has brought quality architecture to Littlehampton in the form of Thomas Heatherwick’s East Beach Café, Asif Khan’s West Beach Café, Studio Weave’s World’s Longest Bench and Flanagan Lawrence’s Stage by the Sea. Her latest project is Riverside Wharf.

I’ve enjoyed Littlehampton for years and have always felt a little let down by the rows of Barratt-type developments that line the River Arun, the town’s centre-piece. They are by no means offensive, and no doubt make delightful homes, but simply don’t inspire. Riverside Wharf raises the bar somewhat.

This modern development replaces a small stretch of Victorian industrial buildings by the town’s footbridge. More accurately, it part-replaces, as some of the best bits of the old buildings’ flint and brick facades have been incorporated into the new glass, zinc and cedar structure.

The scheme consists of five three-storey houses (costing £650-700k) that float above a ground floor shared car park. They were completed this year to the designs of Hampshire-based architect John Pardey who, more locally, has designed a number of key elements at the University of Sussex and also houses on Withdean Road.

Within Riverside Wharf, there is considerable blurring between interior and exterior spaces. Glass expanses give views across the ever-changing river and balconies jut out in all sorts of different places. The cavities beneath the building’s sawtooth roof have been incorporated into upstairs bedrooms rather than turned into lofts.

It would be unfair to say that Brighton & Hove has nothing to offer when it comes to good modern architecture but there are sadly few examples. ‘One Hove Park’ by Yelo Architects and Hyde Housing is at least looking promising.

Littlehampton is a fraction of the size though and now has five structures to shout about – all by Jane Wood.



East Beach Cafe

Much has been written in the national press about Littlehampton’s East Beach Café. It was completed in 2007 to the designs of Thomas Heatherwick (of Olympic cauldron and London bus fame) and features rusted steel as the principle material.

Lots could be said, and has been, about both the building and its food. Bearing in mind Brighton & Hove’s inability to get anything of note built, I’m more interested in the battle that was fought by its creator, Jane Wood.

The story starts with Jane buying at auction a seafront flat in Littlehampton. She then acquired the chippy kiosk in front to stop it from being turned into something awful. Her saviour was a Concessions Officer at Arun District Council, Mary Campling, who bought into Jane’s dream of bringing world-class architecture to the town. Through Mrs Campling’s interventions, the council saw fit to do whatever was necessary to make it happen and granted a long lease with a nominal rent.

Although Jane speaks for England about her dealings with various councils in trying to get various projects moving, it is the case that she built the West Beach Café in 2008, the World’s Longest Bench in 2010 and the Stage by the Sea in 2014 by architects Asif Khan, Studio Weave and Flanagan Lawrence respectively. These buildings have worked wonders for Littlehampton.

If such structures are to be built, it has to be borne in mind that the businesses within them (cafes, museums, etc) are not particularly more profitable than if they had been built within drab seaside sheds. It is the rest of a town that ultiamtely benefits. That is why councils should be bending over backwards to attract people like Jane.

I wonder how we should be attracting the Jane Woods of the world to Brighton & Hove.



Whoopsadaisy Pavilion

A recent trip to the Whoopsadaisy Pavilion got me thinking about how Preston Park and, indeed, local parks generally have changed since Victorian times.

The land that became 63-acre Preston Park was purchased by Brighton Corporation from the Bennett-Stanford family in 1883 for £50,000. It was formally opened in 1884 after much landscaping. A cycling track and clock tower followed in 1887 and 1892 respectively.

Historian Virginia Hinze explained to me that plans were unveiled in 1928 by the council’s Superintendent of the Parks & Gardens, Captain Bertie ‘Mac’ MacLaren, that included a six-acre lake. The lake was never built but, nevertheless, the park of today was essentially created. MacLaren used various items to decorate the park, including statues and urns, from the Aquarium in Brighton that was being converted from Gothic to Classical at that time. Railings and a large entrance lodge were removed and pavilions were added. The Rotunda was added in 1929.

I remember seeing the Ladies’ Bowls Pavilion being advertised by the Friends of Preston Park back in 2012 with no specific use in mind. It ended up being rented on a ten-year lease the following year by the charity Whoopsadaisy which looks after children with cerebral palsy and other motor disorders. Prior to that, it had been empty for around five years.

I met Caroline Matanle at the Whoopsadaisy Pavilion (great name!) who told me that around 25 children are based there. Although the building is not large, the space is ideal. The interior is bright and exciting, and was, I understand, painted by volunteers from HSBC and Lloyds. The exterior has been left as original and consists of a prominent pitched roof with generous eaves that create a colonnade. The green opposite is no longer used for bowling but now serves as a wonderful meadow.

All sorts of buildings have changed use in our parks. The earliest change that I recall is the lodge in the Level being rented by auctioneers Clive Emson around ten years ago. One of the pavilions in Wish Park in Hove is now a nursery. A bowls pavilion on the Western Lawns is now home to Riptide Fit Camp (previously Riptide Gym under the Kings Road arches).

Although I’ve listed several examples of bowls facilities closing, the underground hall at the King Alfred is a somewhat different story. It went the other way – from car park to bowls hall.



King Alfred Redevelopment

In November 2004, a deal was signed by Brighton & Hove City Council and Karis Holdings with architect Frank Gehry for the redevelopment of the King Alfred site in Hove which was to include a new £30 million sports centre and 590 homes. By November 2014, ten years later, potential developers must have registered interest if they want to be involved in the next attempt.

If momentum continues, we should be seeing a debate next year on which scheme, and which architect, will be picked. Ten years ago, it was between architects Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers and Wilkinson Eyre. Thinking back to Gehry’s unpopular proposal, I suspect that towers and weird architecture will be avoided this time.

It is thought that the new sports centre is likely to cost £40 million including its £7 million underground car park. This is a lot of money to raise from the 400-500 homes that will no doubt end up on the site. I should mention that the new centre does not have to be built in the current location and it may well end up, instead, by Hove Station or on Benfield Valley. This discussion is still to be had.

Last month, a petition with 2,068 signatures calling for a flexible 50m pool (rather than the series of separate small pools which have been proposed by the council) was submitted by Mike Weatherley, Member of Parliament for Hove. Every local swimming club including the Shiverers, Brighton Swimming Club and the Dolphins Disabled Swimming Club, backs the 50m option. It would be a brave developer who ignores those who care deeply about, and actually understand, swimming provision locally.

Similarly, the council has proposed a three-rink bowls hall for the new centre. Such an arrangement would immediately spell the end for the thriving King Alfred Indoor Bowls Club which was founded in 1946. Whoever drew up the specification should have known that six rinks are required for any meaningful competition. Another petition is being prepared now.

My own dream scheme would occupy the current seafront site with Thomas Heatherwick as architect. It would have a 50m pool and six-rink bowls hall, and possibly a single sleek modest tower on the west side. From there, a long winding path, through a revamped Western Lawns with landscaped gardens and adult exercise parks would lead to Hove Lagoon. Most importantly though, it would embrace Hove, not fight it.