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Special report: Brighton and Hove is city of architectural wonder
4:00pm Saturday 10th August 2013 in News
From the Regency splendour of Hove to the eye-catching Art Deco features of Saltdean Lido and Embassy Court – our city’s architectural delights can now be enjoyed in the form of a new walking tour.
University of Sussex lecturer Dr Geoffrey Mead has used his decades of knowledge to create a self-guided tour taking in 20 of the finest buildings in Brighton and Hove.
From the Victorian grandeur of the seafront hotels to the refined elegance of Regency Hove, the printed leaflet covers hundreds of years of architectural history.
Dr Mead said: “The idea was to show people that there is more to the city than the Pier and Pavilion.
“I’ve started in Saltdean at the Grand Ocean and gone all the way to Barford Court in Hove.
“It is designed to be done either in one go or stages.”
It begins at the Grand Ocean in Saltdean – one of Dr Mead’s favourite buildings.
Built in 1938 as a luxury hotel it was taken over by Butlins in 1953 before being redeveloped as luxury apartments as it is today.
He said: “People class it as Art Deco but it’s a product of the ModernistMovement.
“The design is very simple and functional, something very common in the inter-war period.
“It is in complete contrast to the likes of the building now occupied by Hotel du Vin in Ship Street which was built around the same time.”
He added: “But there was a great deal of upheaval in those years with the Wall Street Crash, Jarrow Crusade, high unemployment and the rise of fascism.”
As a result, the lecturer explained events in the inter-war years led to buildings going one of two ways.
They were either “futuristic, functional and different” to escape and try and move on from the troubled times or “comfortable, cosy and traditional” to hark back to supposed better times.
Dr Mead said: “This can be seen in the contrast of the Grand Ocean and Hotel du Vin.”
The tour starts in Saltdean and moves down through Rottingdean, taking in the likes of Rottingdean Mill, Ian Fraser House, Roedean School and Marine Gate before reaching Kemp Town.
The seafront hotels of The Metropole, Norfolk and Grand are next followed by Hove’s Regency squares and Embassy Court.
The 1930s blocks of Grand Avenue and Viceroy Lodge are the penultimate stops before Barford Court ends the tour.
While many purists turn their noses up at the city’s higgledy-piggledy mix of architecture, Dr Mead believes it is something to be celebrated.
He added: “That’s what you expect with Brighton, it is a city full of contradictions.
If you go somewhere like Bath you expect it to be glorious throughout.
“But in Brighton you can walk by magnificent buildings one minute and ugly ones the next. The seafront for instance is a real dog’s dinner.”
And while many fret over the future of the city’s many planned developments, Dr Mead feels we can rest easy.
He said: “We have flourished creatively over the years by being out on the edge of things.
“We have always attracted edgy and creative people and we will continue to do so.
“It helps that we have two universities pumping out brain power by the gallon. The city is bursting with ideas and creativity “People come from rural areas to spend three years in Brighton, but never leave. That’s what gives us that edge.
“This city will always be home to fantastic architecture.”
To pick up your copy of the tour visit the tourism information currently located in the Toy Museum in Trafalgar Street.
The Royal Pavilion is one of the most remarkable buildings in the world.
So much so that Adolf Hitler issued strict orders it should not be bombed, so he could use it as his headquarters following a successful invasion.
A mish-mash of styles, the Pavilion was built in three stages as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales who later became the Prince Regent.
Much of the exterior is built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent in India in the 19th century with influences also ranging from as far and wide as France and China.
However, not everyone was taken with it. It was almost demolished after Queen Victoria decided it didn’t provide her with enough privacy on her visits.
It was only saved when it was bought for the town for a fee of £53,000 in 1850.
During the First World War it was converted to a field hospital for soldiers of the Imperial Indian Army.
Following the declaration of peace, the Pavilion’s main function was for attracting tourism to the town and as a result was returned to its former glory.
It now attracts some 320,000 people every year with nearly half of all visitors to the city stating the building is their main reason for visiting the city.
Dr Mead said: “The Pavilion is just one on its own.
“It’s actually not that big but the turrets and minarets really create that feeling of grandeur.
“It’s difficult to pin a style on it. The best description would probably exotic regency.”
The Hilton Metropole hotel is considered one of the finest buildings in the city.
However, that wasn’t always the case.
When first constructed in 1890, locals dubbed it “the ugliest building in Brighton”
due to the fact it was the first on the seafront to break from the traditional cream colour.
The clever marketing ploy worked with the hotel’s 328 rooms regularly booked out by the rich and famous throughout the year.
With 328 rooms, it was the largest outside of London and certainly spared no expense.
Rooms were scented by the hotel’s own perfumier and interior decorations were done by the celebrated Albert Kingsley and the Temple brothers.
Dr Mead said: “It looked very different to everything else on the seafront at the time so certainly divided opinion.
“It’s very London, very pushy and quite austere. It didn’t go down that well at all.”
Since its construction Embassy Court has divided opinion across the city.
Some describe it as one of the most beautiful blocks in the country while others see it as a blight on the otherwise beautiful seafront.
It was built in 1935 in the Art Deco style – or possibly English Modernist Movement depending on who you speak to.
Divided into 72 flats, rent cost between £150 and 500 per year – the price of a small house in the city at the time.
As a result, its residents came from a somewhat select group.
Among those who have called Embassy Court home over the years include music hall hero Max Miller, actor Rex Harrison and playwright Terence Rattigan.
It also holds a curious record in being the first building in the country to house penthouse apartments.
The latter half of the 20th century was unkind to the building with legal disputes and maintenance issues resulting in it becoming a haven for squatters, drug addicts and the homeless.
Both the exterior and interior fell into disrepair but restoration efforts over the last 15 years have seen a return to its former glory.
Dr Mead said: “Embassy Court – like Grand Ocean – was a move away from Art Deco. The design is very simplistic and plain.
“It was a real hub for intellectuals when it was built.”
WHAT YOU THINK
Scores of you took to our website yesterday to have your say. Many agreed with Dr Mead’s list but others suggested a number of additions.
ICantThinkOfAName said that the Pylons on the A23 deserve a mention while jsuk2000 recommended Hove Town Hall.
TerryHendries is more specific naming the Theatre Royal stage door as his architectural gem while Charismatic Andrew said Anston House near Preston Park.
Mrs Newcastle reckons Clayton & Black's 1932 rebuild of The King and Queen should get a mention while MarionC10 rated the old Hove Town Hall.
Patrick agreed with many others in recommending the bandstand while Nuff Said – perhaps with a hint of sarcasm - said: “The Brighton Centre and the adjoining Odeon cinema complex, whose architects really knew how to take advantage of a prime seafront location.”
Jimmy Stewart's Imaginary Rabbit added: “The Amex Stadium. Absolutely fantastic in itself, but in conjunction with its downland setting it is a stunning blend of nature and architecture.”
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