Split Pediment

The musings of a Brighton-based architecture dweeb and town planner in training.

Category: Architecture


Not that anyone’s been counting, or that there’s anything inherently significant about the number 100 to the contents of this here blog, but this is my 100th post. Cripes, some people do that in a week! Anyway, you already both know what you’re getting for this.

This rather fine pediment covers the grand entrance to Southover Manor, which was apparently built in the 1840s for a William Verrell (hence the “V”, obvs). The Verrells were serious stuff in Lewes (owning the still-impressive White Hart Inn) more about whom can be found out in this rather interesting blog.


Birmingham: the unfinished revolution

Hello both. I’m meant to be writing a project about refitting an office building to the highest standards of sustainable energy excellence. But I’m not. I’m writing instead for your reading pleasure about a city I have a soft spot for, and how it was treated in the first decade of this century.

For three delightful years, I studied Philosophy at Birmingham. I learnt a smattering of Nietzsche, a smattering more of Schopenhauer and had my first, tentative forays into somewhere that was beginning to describe itself as a “gay village”, with that post-QAF new sense of pride – and marketing potential – that was taking root in queer communities in English cities.

Whilst I was there – in 2000 – the Mailbox opened. This behemoth was noted amongst my Brummie friends as something of an ananchronism: it was due to house a Harvey Nicks, amongst other things. Jeez, this wasn’t what Birmingham was known for. Trashy hen weekends, yes; car manufacturing, sure; a strange round 60s tower called the Bull Ring, kind of. But high-end retail? Nah. I mean, that was what Rackham’s was for, right? And only your posh cousin Stanley’s grandma shopped there.

The Mailbox, in typical Birmingham style, was a building that fronted a busy A road and had a canal out the back. The site had previously housed an enormous sorting office (hence the referential name), built in 1970 with mechanised sorting and a tunnel link to the nearby New Street station; it had been the largest building in the city and its core steel structure was re-used in the new building.

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Know thy station; or, the various fates of three north London termini – part 2

Greetings one and both! I hope this finds you well. St Pancras was a Christian zealot, apparently decapitated at the behest of Diocletian in 303AD. He was fourteen years old. There are three¬†fine nineteenth century buildings that, directly or not, memorialise this headstrong lad. The station – of which more later; St Pancras new church (built, anachronistically, in the supposed Greek renaissance style, fashionable in the early 19th Century); and the old church (the fabric of which is mostly newer than the new church. Natch), in the churchyard of which stands Sir John Soane’s memorial to his wife and in which Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin plotted their elopement. And they say romance is dead. Or something.

Pancras means, literally, “the one that holds everything”, and the station that bears this martyr’s name tries to do precisely that. “fine” burgers, “natural” remedies, “authentic” fossil (apparently that’s a distinctive modern vintage global lifestyle company specialising in consumer fashion accessories). You can even go to somewhere that helps you to “transform daily routines into the special rituals they once were”; going to the toilet never sounded so appealing. You can see a giant statue of two people melodramatically kissing, a much smaller statue of that wonderful old curmudgeon Sir John Betjemen, and – presumably for the next year or so – some Olympic-sized rings. If you’re really unlucky you might get to hear someone as arse-crushingly anodyne as Ed Sheeran whipping a crowd of international commuters into a frenzy of bedraggled bemusement as part of the “station sessions” series of unfortunate concerts.

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Know thy station; or, the various fates of three north london termini – part 1

Howdy. Where is this?

Bright sunshine gleaming off the polished granite, metal frames and glass of crisp, late international style office blocks. This could be somewhere on Park Avenue or – just perhaps – one of the less showy buildings in the Chicago Loop. Except not.

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The pediments of Birmingham

Longer posts will – eventually – be forthcoming following my recent trip up midlands. Meanwhile, a few of the curvy pediments of Birmingham:

Two split pediments, canoodling behind a hedge:

A nice bit of stonework, snugly supporting a friendly cherub:

A rather pristine swoop of terracotta:

The Brighton Astoria, or; Art Deco ain’t what it used to be

Hi both. What what, two posts in as many days? Cripes.

Yesterday afternoon, whilst you mere mortals were scrabbling around for an invite to Google+, the decider-actioners of the Brighton & Hove City Council Planning Committee were ringing the death-knell for one of the few remaining grand cinemas of our fair city.

“Eco-offices and jobs replease [sic] empty cinema” went the press release. (Which makes the classic press office mistake of not being able to spell overestimating the numbers – apparently the offices will bring “almost 200 jobs”. No, the actual estimate is 170 jobs. Is 170 almost 200? No. It’s exactly 170. Most of the populous can quite easily grasp the number 170. Perhaps if there were 192 jobs, you might call that almost 200. But 170 is nearer 150 than 200. Oh, OK are we rounding up to the nearest 50 now? So 151 is actually almost 200. *Sigh* I know a four year old that counts like that. Seriously. Grr. Calm down.)

Under different circumstances you might have found me rallying to the defence of a grade II listed building, if all they’re planning to replease replace it with is some rubbish offices. But in this case, the Councillors made exactly the right decision.

Let’s talk about planning policy. No! Sit down, Smithins! If you pay attention at the back you might actually learn something.

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Space Syntax, or; a little semantics goes a long way.

So there’s this slightly shady organisation called “Space Syntax” who’ve been a little bit silly.

I’ve not really talked about the riots on here. Though I’m not devoid of thoughts on the subject, this is mainly because I think that riots are an incredibly complex urban phenomenon and it’s not something that I feel particularly qualified to comment on. During the riots I was merrily commuting between leafy hove and a bit of lovely Frank Bridge at the Royal Albert Hall. I’m not saying that nice, side-parted middle class vicar’s sons can’t ever comment on matters that don’t concern their immediate experience. I’m merely saying that the impetus behind rioting and looting is so foreign to me, and the brew of complex and contradictory motivating factors – coupled with the inherent randomness of big cities – such a vast area to try and comprehend, that this subject seems a little above my proverbial pay grade.

Having put that thrilling caveat in, I do feel entirely qualified (by which I mean brain-between-the-ears qualified) to tear apart the analysis offered by Space Syntax. (Of course, you dear readers both don’t actually need telling any of this. You’ll read their work, scoff, chortle, roll your eyes and reach for the skittles. I do this for my own smug self-satisfaction.)

Space Syntax claim that “the spatial configuration of large post-war housing estates is the key influence” behind the riots. Yup. Uh huh. Why? Well, according to Bill Hillier of Space Syntax, large post-war housing estates are full of “over complex” spaces, where the kids can hang all on their lonesome and come up with nasty plans to steal dvd players from cash converters, unsupervised by adults. The hanging about that is, not the stealing. Moreover, “this pattern of activity … is not found in non-estate street networks.” Huh. So kids never hang around unsupervised on, I don’t know, street corners. Or in car parks. Or playgrounds. Or at school. Or at home, ffs.

Look, I’m not a romantic for “post-war” housing estates (by the way, it’s been 65 years, when do we stop using that term please?). I’ve read my Lynsey Hanley, and I’ve walked around enough housing to know that some housing estates are shit holes, some are poorly designed, some are interesting and stimulating, some are great. And I’m not going to pretend that the design of places doesn’t influence people’s behaviour. Of course it does; I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it didn’t. But this sort of “research”, that tries to hitch its flimsy waggon to the runaway cargo ship of the latest public catastrophe, this futile attempt to posit a singular, subjective, pseudo-quantifiable constant as the catalyst for the most random of urban events, is demeaning to all involved.

Right, well done for getting to the end of that. Have a pretty picture.


Good Scott

A fuss (and given we’re talking about architectural history here, you can imagine the sheer scale of said fuss) has lately been made over George Gilbert Scott. See, for example, the oaf that is Simon Jenkins do his level best to portray Scott as a victim of an incomprehensible miscarriage of historical justice. Jenkins’ major argument is that nobody’s yet written a biography of Scott; this may be unfortunate, but it doesn’t exactly make him an architectural pariah, weighted down as he was with those triple guarantors of obscurity, a knighthood, RIBA’s royal gold medal and being buried here.

Scott’s name was one of the first I learnt as an autodidact of architectural history. Difficult to remember exactly why one remembers something, but I suspect it had something to do with the name’s dynastic tendencies and trying not to get into a muddle over my Gileses and (multiple) Georges. Indeed, both Jenkins’ article (now corrected) and the Mirror (brava Kirsty Henley-Washford! We commend your architectural predilections if not your accuracy!) cocked up the lineage. Of course, I need not have bothered. That excruciatingly embarrassing faux pas never occurred; very few people have heard of George Gilbert Scott (or his progeny) because very few people have heard of any architect. And, yes – I realise that you (dear readers both) have heard of all the architects, but that’s because you’re special. Seriously, though, which Victorian architects are better known? I offer Charles Barry and Pugin, but only because they did this. Waterhouse, maybe. Butterfield? Blomfield? Street? Hardwick? I can barely remember what they built, and I actually care about these things. Sigh.

Of course, this is all due to a bicentenary and the trend-setting power of Google. More interesting to me than whether this man deserves a biography (what a dreckishly dull conceit to hang an article on!) is the architectural furore that Sir GGS provoked.

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Surprised you there, didn’t I?

Alright, ALRIGHT already!! I’m coming back. I’m getting weary of your haranguing and boiled teddy bears in the post and the endless cajoling of the mindless public, the salacious rumours of my whereabouts, the gossip over whether or not I might have begun studying something called – with droll irony – “planning”, the pots of Farrow & Ball paint tipped calmly through my letterbox (I’m fairly sure it was “setting plaster” but it might have been “dead salmon”. The light in my hallway isn’t best), the beastly scribblings on the wall of my favourite cubicle in Hove Town Hall (yes, I KNOW I don’t work there anymore, but the glam drabness of the place gets me every time. And it’s on the way home, so…), the inane chatter of the drug-addled classes clamouring for my take on revolution in the Arab world, the student revolt, the sneering, dripping hatred of our charmless, simple-minded political masters and the state of pediments (YES!) – split and otherwise – in the climate of proto-dystopian wilderness that is our built environment. ALL THIS AND PROBABLY LESS will come your way. Soon. Ish. You people. Why I oughtta…


Hugs and kisses.

Sinister Saltdean

So I took a stroll today*, it being a nice day and everything, from where I live in nice, normal, safe Kemptown. I went East. I tell you, it’s strange out East. West is usually fine. Go West, in the high manner of the Pet Shop Boys, and you will inevitably hit Brighton – a perfectly proper seaside resort with wholesome entertainments and fine, upstanding citizens. But no; I went East.

Until I came to Saltdean. You’ll know Saltdean for two things. Bungalows and the Lido. And you’re not wrong:

There they are. The bungalows, and the Lido. One of them (I’m not telling which) has the words “Saltdean Lido” on it in big letters, so that you know that that’s definitely one of those two things. (Oh, alright, it’s this one:)

You say Lido and I say Lido… But hang on, what’s that totalitarian monstrosity – as The Automatic profoundly enquire – coming over the hill? And well may you ask. More of that to come.

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