Black Lions Treat

by robertmcnicol

So we have another new building in Brighton to marvel at. Well, actually and technically we don’t. I’m lying slightly in the vain hope that somehow that will make you more curious and hence more likely to continue reading. And now I’m self-referentially commenting on the fact. Oh how desperately Modern I am. Anyway, back to the marveling.

02593A nice friendly local firm, Karis., [I have no idea if they actually are friendly or nice. They could be kitten defenestrators for all I know.] have redeveloped Black Lion Street. Said street, for those of you who have never been resident in Brighton, is a very old street – one of the original streets of the old town of Brighton and, at one time, a very fancy address for a fisherman – but it hasn’t been well-treated in recent years. It has suffered the indignity of having the entrance to an underground car park gouged out of it along the East side and had some nasty 70s offices built on the site of the old Black Lion brewery (described in my shiny new Pevsner guide as “banal and overbearing” and as by Wells-Thorpe & Suppel. Shame on them, I suppose.)

Said offices, Moore House to name them, have, thankfully, been redeveloped, and thus we are brought to the first of our not new buildings (two! Yes two! And neither of them new! See how I lied earlier and then told you I lied to make you read on! Now the truth doth out!).

02587So this building was designed by the fairly famous Piers Gough of CZWG architects (he’s the G) who also designed a nice house for Janet Street-Porter, amongst other things. It’s good. Taut, would be my adjective of choice. It consists of eight unequal bays (six tall, two short, asymetrically placed) of tall pointed window recesses, each with a separate deeper-recessed entrance on the ground floor. There’s also two large window blocks (would we call those oriels?) projected forward and a couple of balconies.

It’s clad in a gunboat blue-grey, mainly thickly painted weatherboard (though it’s some sort of chip- or fibre-board, shaped with faux-grain mouldings, rather than proper slices of wood) with similarly-coloured panels between the windows. The building is what one might call post-modern and is a vast improvement on what was there before. It probably could do with a wider street for its height to be properly appreciated but what-ho, it’s a refurbishment so y’know.

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I’m not entirely sure about the profligacy of vents, though they do add a touch of cheeky playfulness I suppose. I would, however, criticise the lamps, which really are too fiddly and not even vaguely in keeping with the rest of the building. But that’s a tiny niggle in what is really a strong building. A certain big-tongued cooking mockney will be opening some sort of Italian eatery on the ground floor; what an endorsement, eh?

Now, while that’s very nice, the building I’m actually excited about is right next door at number 8.

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Karis. (what is with that full stop?) have employed Alan Phillips to redevelop this building. The final result is somewhat more symmetrical (and conservative) than the drawings, but I love it. It’s a very idiosyncratic style but from my unreliable memory those recessed round-arched windows and the various string coursings were there before. How old is this building? I can’t find out (I’ve been trying for the past hour) and I can barely guess. My best is that it was a warehouse of some variety, those large blank arches with wooden planking infil having been large doors with, originally, hoists above.

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So, Nineteenth Century then (though those window forms are very odd). The whole treatment is wonderfully understated. The wood dominates but not in the overwhelming way of many modern (often residential) developments where its merrily glued to all available vertical surfaces. Here it still remains subservient to the form of the building, being neatly curtailed (and mildly recessed behind) those two big arches. A nice touch is the off-centre leading of the windows and the textural variety between the neutrally-finished stucco, the rich honeyed wood and the sleek glass is very well handled. But it’s those arches that make the thing. Delightful.

Number 8 is set to be used as a Japanese restaurant-cum-Karaoke club. Get in!

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