Yes, In My Backyard

Yes, In My Backyard

Local author Richard Bingham begins a second series of articles about the unsung heroes of Brighton’s architecture. new series gets to grips with the tendentious topic of housing in the city, and commences with a look at 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent, a low-rise, high-density block of flats in Hove (Figure 1).

Figure 1: the elevation on Goldstone Crescent

Sandwiched between two well-used municipal parks – Hove Recreation Ground and Hove Park – 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent could hardly be more suburban. The block is located at the junction of Old Shoreham Road and Goldstone Crescent and comprises more than 70 apartments. The new development replaced the large suburban villa formerly occupied by Bellamy’s Language College (Figure 2).1Brighton and Hove City Council, Planning Brief: Park House, Old Shoreham Road, Hove, March 2011

Figure 2: Park House

The L-shaped site was a particular challenge (Figure 3). A large bite had already been taken out of the land at its corner by Hove Park Manor and Gannet House, a paired block of low-rise flats built during the 1970s. The design for 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent makes a virtue of this difficulty by infilling the L-shape with a well-landscaped courtyard garden that blends well with the leafy appearance of this hidden corner of Hove (Figure 4). In addition, the site labours uphill: Old Shoreham Road rises by 5 metres west to east, meaning that the building has to step up alongside it (Figure 5).

The materials used for the new flats are familiar from much contemporary building design. The glazing is extensive and the attractive, sand-coloured bricks are contrasted with grey metal cladding applied to the penthouse floor, the balconies and the lightboxes at the corner (Figure 5).

Figure 3: the L-shaped Park House site


Figure 4: the courtyard garden


Figure 5: the stepped elevation along Old Shoreham Road

The materials used for the new flats are familiar from much contemporary building design. The glazing is extensive and the attractive, sand-coloured bricks are contrasted with grey metal cladding applied to the penthouse floor, the balconies and the lightboxes at the corner (Figure 5).

The Planning Process
1 and 3 Goldstone Crescent, otherwise known as Park House, had a difficult gestation period. In 2009, two separate planning applications from the developer Hyde Martlet were turned down by Brighton and Hove City Council. The reasons for these rejections were summarised by the Council as:

. . . the scale and the amount of development, the long facades, the height and bulk of the building and the standard of design. The dominant impact and overbearing nature of the proposal, as well as the impact on the setting of Hove Park, were also cited.2Brighton and Hove City Council, Planning Brief: Park House, Old Shoreham Road, Hove, March 2011

Following these rejections, and because the site was so large and prominent, in May 2011 the Council went to the trouble of publishing a Planning Brief, which summarised the authority’s requirements from any developer. The Brief also contained feedback from local residents garnered via public exhibitions held at Hove Bowls Club and Hove Town Hall in February 2011.3Brighton and Hove City Council, Consultation Summary Report – Park House Public Exhibition, 2011

The rest of this article will consider how the design of 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent was an imaginative response to the Planning Brief as well as the 70 or so written submissions received by the Council. It will suggest that, in meeting the majority of these concerns, the development serves as an exemplar for other developments in our over-crowded city.

An Ingenious Design
In addition to the Council’s concerns about the rejected Hyde Martlet proposals, the most frequently mentioned concerns about the development were as follows: that car parking should be provided on site; that the building should be in keeping with its existing surroundings; that the building should not be too tall, with the majority urging a limit of three storeys.

Nothing gets long-suffering residents of our city hotter under the collar than traffic. Digging out the underground car park at 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent added considerable costs for the developers but ensured there was sufficient on site car parking for residents’ cars not to spill out onto the surrounding streets, where car parking was already limited. A small additional car park was also included above ground at the eastern end. 

Two entrances are provided to the motorist, one on Goldstone Crescent and the other on Old Shoreham Road. Both entrances feature an apron that allows residents’ cars to get out of the way of traffic when arriving home. Nonetheless, it had to be said that the number of new homes have inevitably added to the steady stream of vehicles waiting at the lighted junction between Goldstone Crescent and Old Shoreham Road (Figure 1).

The designers went some way to ensure that 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent complemented the built environment in which it found itself. The development is four storeys high, rising to five storeys on the Old Shoreham Road elevation. The fifth storey is a penthouse floor that has been recessed, thus reducing the effect of the development looming over the existing building lines of the two and three storey Victorian housing it faces. Similarly, the choice of sand-coloured brick blends in with the older yellow brick of the late Victorian houses typical of this area of Hove.

In other ways, too, the design of 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent makes it a polite building that went a long way to assuaging the Council’s fears about “long facades, the height and bulk of the building”.4Brighton and Hove City Council, Planning Brief: Park House, Old Shoreham Road, Hove, March 2011

Massing is an architectural term that describes a building as a three-dimensional object. As we have seen, 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent smuggles in a fifth storey but remains relatively low-rise in appearance. Moreover, the massing of the building is handled with great subtlety on its facade, creating a sense of variety at the same time as reducing any tendency to dominate or bully.

The building steps back from the pavement, using planting at the ground floor to provide privacy for residents and break up the elevation. This recessed effect is enhanced by the deep, open balconies, creating an additional outside space for residents that takes advantage of the fine views over Hove Park and down towards the seafront. The balconies are contained in a series of brick porticos that add a sense of grandeur to the building but also create a rippling, “in-out” effect of recession and projection that recalls the best of Jacobean architecture (Figure 6).

Figure 6: the balconies, brick piers and the play of recession and projection serve to break up the facade

Any hint of overbearing monumentality is likewise reduced by the block’s pleasing lack of symmetry. On the Goldstone Crescent frontage, there are a total of 10 bays, with three central bays flanked by three further bays to the left but four on the right. Another note of variety is introduced to the top of the building’s elevation, where the brick roofline is broken to form a spacious balcony for the penthouse apartment. Despite this asymmetry, the Goldstone Crescent elevation remains classical in its overall proportions.

There is less coherence to the elevation along Old Shoreham Road (Figure 5). However, this might be more to do with the stepped roofline, the more prominent grey penthouse floor and the central retained tree that disrupts the building’s rhythm. (Retaining existing trees was another precondition contained in the Council’s Planning Brief).

Figure 7: Long view from Old Shoreham Road

The long view from Old Shoreham   Road looking east shows the stepped profile to best advantage.  The way the building steps up in relation to the slope along the Old Shoreham Road, yet keeps below the tree-line behind is admirable. It’s polite, it’s an excellent example of sympathetic approach to the townscape and is an attractive feature.

Talking of penthouses raises the thorny issue of price. Forty per cent of the apartments at 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent were supposedly affordable housing. However, a typical flat was recently on the market for £500,000. For that money, a purchaser received two bedrooms and a single large reception room measuring 26ft by 16ft. Total accommodation was 870 sq ft.

Whither Brighton and Hove?

To ameliorate its housing crisis, Brighton and Hove desperately needs new homes. It has been cogently argued in these pages by Jeremy Mustoe that the pressing need for housing is not best met by the kind of high rise towers currently being built near to 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent at the Sackville Trading Estate site. Instead, according to Mustoe, what the city needs is low-rise, high-density developments. 

One of the criticisms of many high rise developments is that their footprint rarely provides public space. Although it is impossible to say how well used the courtyard garden is at Park House, it does provide such a space, and features seating, colourful planting and hard landscaping that echoes the stepped design of the building itself (Figure 8).

Figure 8: soft and hard landscaping accents the sloping site

In his book Home Truths: The UK’s Chronic Housing Shortage, Liam Halligan explains why not enough homes are being built. 5Halligan, L, Home Truths: The UK’s Chronic Housing Shortage, Biteback Publishing, 2019 One is the cartel of five big housing developers who restrict supply by building out their sites slowly so that prices remain high. A second factor is the planning regime.

We have seen in this article how the development of the Park House site was significantly delayed by the need for public consultation. Halligan identifies such nimbyism as one of the stumbling blocks to building the number of new homes the country needs.

There does, indeed, seem to be a presumption on the behalf of some people that any and all development is inherently bad. The public consultation exercise for 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent found that nearly a quarter of respondents wanted the original Park House retained, a view supported by Hove and Portslade MP Mike Wetherley. 6Brighton and Hove City Council, Consultation Summary Report – Park House Public Exhibition, 2011And yet, few could argue that replacing a villa with more than 70 new homes was not good for a city in the midst of a housing crisis.

Many of the concerns raised by residents have been answered by the design of 1 & 3 Goldstone Crescent. Some conflict with one another: the underground car park was incompatible with the continued existence of a nearby badger sett, for example. Yet the major concerns about traffic, height and a design that was in keeping with the local built environment have all been successfully met. Although lengthy, the planning process could be said to be responsible for such success.

The block of flats remains an excellent example of how good design overcomes a knotty set of planning conundrums. It shows how a brownfield site well inside the city’s precincts can be developed in a way that is sensitive to the environment and the views of local residents. A clever design, it is also the kind of low-rise, high density housing the city cries out for.

All photography by Richard Bingham

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