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2024 Spring Excursion | Brighton Rocks!

Event Review | Lynne Sullivan

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Taking a leaf out of ‘Prinny’s’ book, we journeyed to Brighton for a day of sea air, inspiration, and architectural pleasures!

First up, a visit to Brighton College, who have spared no expense to provide a top-class learning environment with new sports, music and performing arts facilities which would put any new town (or Olympic legacy site) to shame! We were treated to in-depth tours led by Steve Patten, Brighton College project manager, of recent buildings by OMA, Eric Parry Architects, Allies and Morrison, Hopkins Architects, and an outside view of the Krft concert venue - all in the setting of the Grade I listed quadrangle by George Gilbert Scott.

2024 Spring Excursion | Brighton Rocks!

Awkward complexities of level changes, movement logistics, juxtapositions of building age and character, all made for a uniquely stimulating smorgasbord!

We heard interesting insights into their competitions commissioning process for design team selection, allowing flexibility of design response. Notable buildings’ features were the flow of spaces, light and levels in the sports and science building; the cubic perfection of the music room (offset by the gravity-defying glazed ceramic asymmetric curved roof!) and touchpoints of crafted details such as knapped flint decorative motifs and the oversailing scandi-brick cantilevers of the yet unfinished concert space.

Brighton’s cultural life is massively bolstered by a 600% increase in student living accommodation at the former Preston Barracks site on the Lewes Road, which we visited next. This has formed the basis of a new urban quarter on the principal route into Brighton from Lewes (also the interconnector with University of Sussex) and the awkwardness of the topography – the road is in a giant valley between the hills of Moulsecoomb and Kemptown, and the slopes of the Downs – has enabled tall angled residential buildings to bed comfortably in the lea of the cut.

The key to new placemaking has been the creation of a linking bridge over the busy road, connecting university buildings on both sides but also framing the arrival to Brighton marking a major campus. The nexus of student life is suitably enlivened by the Studio Egret West 'Plus X Innovation' building, in which we stopped for a scrumptious lunch and an overview from Christophe Egret.

2024 Spring Excursion | Brighton Rocks!
2024 Spring Excursion | Brighton Rocks!

Lewes Road's agressive environment cannot be ignored, but tree planting and landscaped routes between the mega blocks aim to mitigate this, nurturing and enlivening campus activities as well as opening up the east / west accessibility.
By bizarre coincidence I made an identical proposition in my final student project – 45 years ago!
– so amazing for me to see it happen

In the middle of our action-packed tour, we stopped at the site of the old fruit and veg market next to Brighton Art College on Grand Parade (once my home at the Brighton School of Architecture!) now redeveloped with dense city-centre apartments, a ballet school and other amenities all within stones-throw of the Brighton Pavilion!

The density seemed entirely appropriate - though over coffee in the square there was some inevitable mulling over of build quality as by then there were a few drops of rain, so what else was there to do?

2024 Spring Excursion | Brighton Rocks!

But then, like Alice in Wonderland we plunged head first into the Prince Regent’s vision of Brighton - with a guided tour hosted by Peter Clegg (Fielden Clegg Bradley) and Maxine Hort (Brighton Dome) taking us through the life-expanding restoration of the Pavilion’s indoor equine arena complex aka the ‘Corn Exchange’ – with a clear roof span only just shy of the great hammerbeam roof of the Palace of Westminster – with knockout spatial impact and tactile timber detailing quality enhanced by immaculate restoration and reproduction. This now activates a world-class assembly of buildings for the Arts, ingeniously connected by deft handling of interstitial spaces which allow visual and functional connections both front and back of house.

2024 Spring Excursion | Brighton Rocks!

The masterstroke seemed to be the most invisible – a connecting level below ground, essentially a concrete box under the mega-timber structure, allowing for linkage, storage, and back-of-house symbiosis.

Having had the benefit during my years of study at Brighton of numerous unforgettable Dome music events (Van Morrison and Captain Beefheart spring to mind!) when the Corn Exchange was very much the poor relation - this reinvigorated cultural heart completes a knockout asset for 21st C. Brighton.

2024 Spring Excursion | Brighton Rocks!

Like (architectural) groupies we finished our day with an ice-cream on the promenade at Hove, contemplating a certain Pink Floyd guitarist’s extraordinary seafront villa – though not a great deal of enthusiasm for ownership at an asking price of £15m – a curiosity no less idiosyncratic than the Prince Regent’s pavilion.

Yes, Brighton rocked!

Thanks must be paid to Committee member Richard Coleman as Excursion Curator and host on the day.