Published 24th February 2009
It's easy to be oblivious to the pleasant subtleties of the built environment around us.
As a resident of a city blessed with some of the country's finest Regency compositions, I once completely overlooked our great Art Deco buildings. 4 Grand Avenue, Courtenay Gate and Furze Croft meant nothing to me. At the time, Embassy Court was a wreck and much of the rest fairly inconspicuous. The subtlety of the Art Deco period was simply lost on me. Again, whilst studying Electrical Engineering at Sussex, Cosworths and Ducatis took precedence over my delightful surroundings. I just saw red brick on campus; not Sir Basil Spence's celebrated masterpiece.
At a glance, the two four-storey blocks of Park Gate, built in 1957-60, are all concrete and hanging tiles just as Sussex University was mounds of fired clay. Despite Park Gate's terrazzo floors, quirky panes of coloured glass and a landscaped courtyard, I really found it hard to open my mind to the idea that a 1960s building might be special. It wasn't until Conran & Partners Director Paul Zara told me a little about the building's illustrious history that I really saw the light (and lots of it).
I don't generally get excited about room sizes and windows (standing outside, why would I?) but, in the case of Park Gate, the generously-proportioned strip-windowed rooms are an unexpected bonus - an aesthetic success externally, a luminary success internally. The Alliance Building Society agent Henry Cushman, working with Span (an extremely admirable developer), was the man behind the scheme. Improving this structurally-sound subtle classic will be about details - the systematic repair of broken and missing features. It'll be worth it though. Park Gate is just one of a handful of 1960s buildings in Brighton & Hove worthy of retention.
Conran & Partners is currently advising Park Gate residents on upgrading the lifts; sensitively satisfying fire regulations; enhancing the gardens; improving thermal performance; and repairing the concrete fabric and glazed roof lanterns. Bearing in mind that Zara oversaw Embassy Court's successful restoration, I expect great results. He has fallen in love with Park Gate to such a degree that he has actually bought one of the scheme's 47 flats.
By all means let's demolish Sussex Heights, the Kingswest building and the rest of the worst of the 1960s but celebrate, preserve and enhance the best of the period.
See www.conranandpartners.com for more on the firm's projects.