Brighton As It Could Have Been – unbuilt plans from our archives

17 January 2018

By Andrew Bennett

Plans for an office in Pavilion Gardens that was never built

Plans for an office in Pavilion Gardens that was never built, ACC 8642/6/4

Whilst carrying out preparatory work for the move to The Keep, I came across a beautifully illustrated architect’s impression of a brutalist conference centre proposed for the Pavilion Gardens, Brighton, dating from the late 1950s. The building was not unattractive but its positioning was controversial and, almost without exception, everyone I have shown it to has reacted with horror. Not long after that discovery, I came across plans drawn up in 1965 for the Skydeck, a very tall viewing platform situated on Brighton seafront, which would have dominated the skyline and bears a passing resemblance to the i360.  There are many other examples of town planning that may have looked forward-thinking in the 1960s but look like eyesores in 2018, and other plans that look ahead of their time. There are others that must have seemed ambitious when they were proposed and remain puzzlingly eccentric.

The Skydeck, proposed in 1965 for Brighton's seafront

The Skydeck, proposed in 1965 for Brighton’s seafront, ACC 11213/93

It is easy to forget that every project, whether realised or not, needs plans in order to be approved or rejected. It is also very difficult to search for plans of abandoned projects – how can you look for something you didn’t know existed?  As I came across more of these examples of these plans, it occurred to me that they would make a great book.  Unfortunately, the time-consuming nature of resolving copyright and ownership issues has always put me off starting such a project, but my technologically able colleague Ben Jackson, who works for the University of Sussex, suggested that we could make an ebook to display the plans. This ebook was put together for our Open Day back in September and is available to view on ipads at The Keep by prior arrangement (we are not publishing it in electronic format for the reasons mentioned).

The earliest of the plans was drawn up in 1799, when sea water bathing was in vogue, and shows the route of a proposed pipeline taking sea water from Brighton to Lambeth to provide Londoners with access to sea bathing. The majority of designs date from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when town planners were considering how to use new building materials such as concrete, and how best to integrate huge numbers of cars into our town centres.  The designs were often radical and usually provoke a strong response.

The Summer and Winter Palace proposed in 1912-13 near the West Pier, ACC 2791/8/1

The Summer and Winter Palace proposed in 1912-13 near the West Pier, ACC 2791/8/1

These plans offer an interesting insight into the aspirations and practical considerations of architects and town planners in Brighton and Hove over the past 200 years. Whilst you may breathe a sigh of relief that a flyover wasn’t ploughed through North Laine, you may wish that you could have a beauty treatment at the handsome Summer and Winter Palace that was planned for the seafront just west of the West Pier!

If you’d like to have a look at the ebook, please email us at thekeep@eastsussex.gov.uk to arrange a convenient time.