Brighton Deco

by robertmcnicol

At the West end of Brighton, just before it rudely interferes with Hove, you’ll notice a couple of Art Deco-ish gems standing proud along the promenade.

Embassy Court for so long was a run-down, rusting, dilapidated hulk of a building that, when I was living just up the road from it, it proved a useful marker when giving directions (“turn left/right at the big ugly block of flats”). However, I always felt a pang of guilt when describing it as such, and were anyone else to do so I would instantly leap at its defense. No! I’d cry – it may look like a dodgy concrete tower block but it’s a fine Deco lady, once home to Rex Harrison none the less.

Now, though, since its revamp it’s once again been restored to its former stature and is (as in this photo) a fine complement to the beautiful peace statue beneath.

Yet whilst Embassy Court has been hailed as a modern masterpiece, its revamp much-lauded and its architect (Mr Wells Coates) highly praised, I find it has something lacking. Possibly this has to do with the starkness of the modernism involved; it doesn’t have the frivolity or decoration of many Art Deco buildings and is more functional than most. And so I introduce what is possibly my favourite Brighton building (along with all my other favourites). This is much more my thing:

You’ll note the similarities: the zigguratted roofline, the tall side chimney stack. But whilst Embassy court is all horizontals, Astra House (at the bottom of Preston Street) has these two strong, jutting grey bays that emphasise the verticality (in an almost Gothic way). Also, thorough the use of the bay window, the Georgian-style sash windows and the rustication on the first floor, it embellishes and riffs on the architectural context rather than the sheer denial of Embassy Court. (Embassy Court of course makes a sop to its surroundings with the colour of the rendering but that’s hardly the same thing.) Astra House also has a warmth through its use of dark yellow brick, and yet a solidity, I think helped by the coursing between the 6th and 7th floors.

There’s something about that balance between the Modern, the Art Deco and the the Neoclassical styles that really appeals to me in Astra House (and it has a much more Futurist-sounding name than Embassy Court, which is practically a tautology). When do I move in?