Split Pediment

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

Category: Conservation

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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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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Cunning plans that went awry

So, there have been a couple of planning applications recently rejected by Brighton & Hove City Council, one for the Marina and one for the old Royal Alexandra Hospital site in the Clifton Hill area.

You’ll remember the royal Alex from my earlier post here. It looks like my warning about its imminent demise were somewhat hasty; the Councillors assembled decided that the plans, submitted by Taylor Wimpey, weren’t good enough for two reasons. They considered that there wasn’t enough play area for the kids living in the proposed flat blocks and also, well – that it was ugly. I mean, they don’t say as much. They say:

It is considered that the development by virtue of its siting, height, scale, mass, detailing and appearance does not contribute positively to its immediate surroundings and would have a detrimental impact on the character and appearance of both the street scene and the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Conservation Area and the setting of the West Hill Conservation Area.

But basically, in the well-worn legalese of the planning department, that means it’s ugly. U-G-L-Y. Now, Clifton Hill and the surrounding area is arguably the prettiest part of a very pretty city. One day every year, sometime between late April and mid-May, Brighton wakes up: the stucco gets a fresh coat of sunlight and the buildings grow an inch for every storey. And on that day I inevitably find myself wondering along Clifton Terrace, wistful and light-headed and wollowing in other cliches, because that’s where the houses are whitest.

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Musings and a building that won’t be here too long

So you’ve seen those annoying adverts on the telly recently, with Daniel “double-oh seven” Craig standing around trying extremely hard not to emote anything at all whilst the soundstage around him carefully explodes over thirty seconds in slow motion, battering him to and fro like an overgrown Autumn breeze and artfully scratching his rugged face without anything actually hitting him. Yes. Yes you have. Well it’s an advert for a high-definition telly. And whilst it’s rubbish qua advert, the quality of the picture is really lovely. The blacks are inky and deep, the reds are a miriad vagaries of crimson, the shards of glass are super-sharp. the puffs of smoke are billowing out of the screen and choking me…

McPalm senior has pointed out, however, that this advert is showing on his telly. And his telly is not – I repeat not – a high def telly. It’s a normal telly. It’s not even digital; it’s cathode ray. And you know what it makes you think when you see it? It makes you think, “huh. Well that picture looks great on this here ordinary non-high-deffy telly. For what, pray tell, do I need one of your new fangled ones? And what the dirty poo does Daniel sodding Craig have to do with it?! HE MAKES ME MAD!”

In fact, I really think Daniel Craig has really managed to revolutionise the Bond franchise. I mean, even with Dalton you didn’t really want Bond to die a horrible, painful, shark-infested death but with Craig, you’re really rooting for the villains. Much more fun.

In no way related, this is the old Royal Alexander Chilren’s Hospital building in the Cliftonville/Montpelier area of Brighton. It’s recently been replaced by a really very nice new bigger better award-winning building and the old one is due for what is euphemistically called “development”.

The original building was built in the 1880s and is a lovely dark Victorian redbrick. The building is large but not inhumanely so, decorated with teracotta mouldings, the odd oriel window, imposing chimneys and twin lead-roofed ogee-domed lanterns.

The other interesting feature is the great swathe of windows that sweeps along the south side of the building. It does work with the building and adds a touch of drama, but it’s clearly an addition – you can see the tops of some triangular gables pointing over the top; all those windows are hardly Victorian and have a more Modern touch; the Classical columns (Doric on the ground floor, Ionic on the first) are stone rather than brick; the top floor is probably a further extension… So I would say the extension is at least Edwardian, if not Twenties or Thirties.

Anyway, it’s not the World’s best building but it is nice and won’t be around much longer. So go see it if you’re in the area.

CORRECTION: The Flying Butress has made a valid and sound point in his comment below. I fully retract my previous incorrect statement and apologise profusely for any offence caused by my inaccuracy. I am a truly dreadful human being.