7th December, 2015…..Geoffrey Baker has written four books, various articles and an Open University publication dealing with analysis of architectural form, examination of works by architects – that include Edwin Lutyens, Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Richard Meier, Antoine Predock and James Stirling. Cities examined include Venice and Siena. As Reader at the Brighton Polytechnic School of Architecture (1976-88) he established a research project into the work of Ahrends Burton and Koralek as exemplars of good architectural practice. His book on James Stirling was the subject of a short post elsewhere on this website.
He has been a supportive saveHOVE associate since 2005 when a misleading CGI produced by Karis to show how the Gehry King Alfred development proposal would impact on St. Aubyns drew a hand-drawn, take-down response of more truthful proportions from him. The Argus published the two images, side by side, on its front page. Karis were enraged, but the public began to see the greater need to look carefully at what developers propose.
Now, ten years on, a proposal for a 17-storey cylindrical tower block of flats for the Kingsway, corner of Sackville Gardens in Hove again draws exasperation, first sent in an email to save HOVE. The request that these thoughts go onto the saveHOVE website, as a guest Opinion, was accepted and it follows here
RESPECT FOR CONTEXT IN CITIES
Genius Loci (Spirit of Place)
In the twenty first century we are assailed by two serious problems, religious insanity and architectural urban terrorism. Each inflicts misery on all of us but the architectural terrorists apparently operate under the radar. They have been systematically destroying cities for decades, attacking neighbourhoods that are beautiful and eroding their distinct character.
The area between Sackville Road and Portslade is every bit as important to Hove as the Regency terraces. Semi-detached suburbia is one of England’s most precious attributes. It has its own charm with its domestic scale, pitched roofs and gardens. It is an architecture that sends a profound message of home in which everyone feels secure; it is an architecture of the people, where families can belong to a like-minded community who enjoy a low-key civilised ambience without being overshadowed or threatened by the monstrous ugliness of so much modernity. This gentle serenity, throughout the whole area, from Sackville Road to Portslade would be destroyed for ever by the devastating impact of the proposed development (and others which are expected to follow).
The proposal critique
It seems that eventually Hove will be destroyed. Fools in the city will ensure it. The 17-storey cylindrical proposal from Yelo Architects is a mess. Rock bottom abysmal. The proposed development doesn’t belong, has no elegance whatsoever, is totally out of scale and sends a strong message of here am I and f*** the rest of you. I care not for your gentle beauty. There is money to be made here so take that!
In my view this is an incompetent piece of design. The combination of verticals and horizontals in this huge block defeat the simple unified idea of the cylinder
The outer surface, with its concrete frame setting up a series of spirals is crude and clumsy. It is far too broken up. The effect of the frame, with disruptive vertical angled projections, results in a series of opposites, some squares, some tall verticals, sitting uneasily together. The projecting bays with angled surrounds don’t sit well with the rest of the design because they are too bold. It’s too busy and is confused.
The design breaks the three golden rules of architecture that in the 19th century made Hove one of the finest seaside towns in Europe:
1) Preserve horizontality, the basic theme of Hove.
2) Preserve a unified roof height.
3) No tower blocks especially cylindrical ones.
In additon: study precursors – both buildings and cities.
1) Hove was designed on a theme of horizontals along the sea front. This reflects the prevailing horizontal of the sea and the lawns and broad promenade are a masterly extension of the idea. Hove’s Regency Terraces were also designed using the architectural language first developed by the Greeks, an architecture of balance, harmony and geometric equilibrium. Norman Foster was trained at Manchester University as I was in the 1950s. We were well schooled in classical principles, as demonstrated throughout his outstanding oeuvre. Since then this language has been neglected and this Hyde design shows no awareness or understanding of the classical principle of design. Why does that matter? Because any city with a strong identity that owes its ambience to a particular set of principles is in danger of eroding these incrementally as each different approach is introduced. It is this kind of ignorance that is responsible for the denigration of great cities worldwide, and can be traced to a failure of architectural education.
2) Keep a regular unified height in any town or city. Hove pursued this policy during its conception and this kind of unity still gives the town a clear identity that ensures its success. All the finest cities in Europe have this from Vienna to Paris, perhaps the finest example. (see also Siena, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Florence, Rome et al.) In 1965 in Paris, they built a tower block at Montparnasse.
Photo taken from a coach window 2006
Like this Hyde proposal it was out of scale, ugly and had nothing to do with Paris. The Parisians learned their lesson and this has not been repeated. All their ugly modern tower blocks are outside the old city to the west beyond the Arc de Triomphe at La Defence. I doubt if this area of offices and banal apartments draws any visitors. Brighton has a group of some of the ugliest buildings in the country at its centre, but although these are close and very visible, those suggesting or supporting this project need urgent optical advice and treatment if they entertain this dismal project which will have the same effect and will lead the way to ever more monstrosities. Hove is apparently not good at learning lessons.
I believe the city “master plan” allows tall buildings in this area, yet another example of the visual illiteracy and insensitivity to context of bureaucratic planning bodies. I understand the need for housing but we must recognise that some places have an enduring, priceless beauty which is why everyone wants to live in them.
3) A cylindrical building is totally out of keeping with an entire town built on an orthogonal grid. The crudeness and conflict evident in the relationship between the rectilinear blocks and the cylinder at its base is dreadful –amateurish. You can’t just place rectilinear blocks against a cylinder in this way. This confirms the crudeness of the outer treatment of the cylinder and the ineptitude of the designer.
When I last went to Nice, the Promenade des Anglais, formerly so elegant, has been completely ruined by hideous, banal, modern blocks. It seems only Eastbourne with some kind of effective controlling mechanism across the city can stop such carnage. Brighton & Hove has everything in place for absolute carnage. It is a city in which visual illiteracy and insensitivity rules. It is permanently under threat from greedy developers and their servants, mediocre architects and frequently inept planning bodies.
If we want to consider an elegant spiral design, look at the outer surface of 30, St. Mary Axe, (swiss re or the Gherkin Building in London). But that is a glass facade; the proposal for Hove uses a heavy concrete frame. Rhythm is important in architecture, the spiral is always a possibility but this Yelo proposal for Hyde Housing is an incompetent design. The architects should look at the work of Norman Foster – he understands the properties of materials, how surface should be handled, that unity and order are necessary in architecture and how rhythms and the spiral can be used. This scheme and that of Gehry for Hove’s King Alfred (planning consented in 2007) make a good pair. Ugliness personified.
There are some fine correct-scale modern additions to Brighton and Hove seafront – the van Alen east of the Palace Pier, the small block on the Vallance Gardens/Kingsway corner, and the offices at 332 Kingsway. I always enjoy seeing them as a reminder that well designed modern buildings of the right scale can fit in and enhance our historical heritage. These sensitive contributions are to be applauded, but this proposal, and other suggested tower blocks represent the malaise that ignores the magnificence of our city. I see the ruin of the West Pier as emblematic of this failure to understand, celebrate, preserve and emulate our distinguished past.