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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Brighton and Hove's brave new world
By Chris Summers
BBC News Online

World-famous architect Frank Gehry, who has created eye-catching landmarks in Bilbao, Seattle and Las Vegas, has set his sights on Sussex.

This is what tourists would see from the end of the Palace Pier

He may have designed the iconoclastic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the equally daring Experience Music Project in Seattle, but his English debut is by no means certain.

Gehry's vision of a new development for the seafront at genteel Hove will first have to overcome a rival bid and then the opposition of the local Conservative group, which is against any housing on the site.

About 400 local residents have also signed a petition.

Brighton and Hove Council is expected to make a decision next month on which is its preferred option, but the proposal will still need to go through the normal planning application process.

The council came up with the idea of a competition when they decided it was high time they redeveloped the 70-year-old King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove.


The Labour-run council wanted to build a state-of-the-art sports centre on the 1.7 hectare site.

The idea was for the council to donate the land and a private developer would stump up the money and subsidise the development by building abound 400 flats with unrivalled sea views.

Most of the flats would be for the luxury end of the market but 40% would be earmarked for key workers like nurses and teachers, or people on the housing waiting list.

The existing site is overdue for redevelopment
Several of the world's top architects submitted bids for the project and the shortlist was whittled down to two, with Lord Rogers (formerly Richard Rogers) the latest to be rejected.

Now it is a straight fight.

In the red corner is Gehry's bizarre vision - a collection of four tower blocks of varying height clustered around a swimming pool complex and "winter garden".

Each tower has giant glass panels, like wings, and each looks as if it has been melted with a giant blowtorch.

In the blue corner is the design put forward by Wilkinson Eyre, who are best known for their remarkable Millennium Bridge in Gateshead.

Their Hove proposal is far more low-key but no less bold - four interconnected buildings resting on the beach almost like jagged bits of glass.

What Frank does is he sculpts these fantastic buildings using models and then he puts them into his computers and sees if they are possible
Piers Gough, CZWG

Both schemes manage to provide a 25 metre competition pool, teaching and leisure pools, a large sports hall, gym, health suite, creche and cafe.

But earlier this month Labour lost control of Brighton and Hove Council in the local elections and the local Tory group is completely opposed to both the Gehry and Wilkinson Eyre proposals.

The leader of the Tory group, Councillor Brian Oxley, said: "Four hundred homes is like a small village and the seafront cannot sustain that sort of development. No extra shops or schools are being proposed."

Gehry is part of a consortium made up of London architects CZWG and leisure centre specialists HOK, Dutch financiers ING and local developers Karis.

Piers Gough, one of the architects at CZWG, said Gehry had a "radical" approach to architecture.

"Most architects use computers, but what Frank does is he sculpts these fantastic buildings using models and then he puts them into his computers and sees if they are possible."

Mr Gough said when Gehry came to Hove and walked along the beach on a very windy day he said: "What we need are five beautiful women, five madonnas."

Gehry's most famous work is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
He then saw pictures of Edwardian Brighton which showed women in flouncy skirts and this gave him the idea for the "blousy" glass sails on the outside of the buildings.

Gehry and sculptor Anthony Gormley then came up with the idea of a "winter garden".

Mr Gough said: "It will be a public space where people can go in bad weather and there will be a large 'seascape' containing seawater which will give them the smell of the sea indoors."

He said the towers would be built of glass and either stainless steel or titanium, to avoid the rusty look so common in seaside resorts.


John Eyre, lead architect on the rival scheme, said: "We have taken a very different approach [to Gehry]. We didn't feel it was appropriate for a tall building and a landmark does not have to be tall to be distinctive."

He told BBC News Online: "We wanted to architecturally unify the site and we did this using a ribbon device, which wraps the buildings together and creates a series of spaces which retain the sea views as much as possible."

Gehry and HRH in LA
Frank Gehry discusses his work with the Duke of York

John Ayles, vice-chairman of Hove Civic Society, said their main concern was preserving the sea views of residents in nearby streets.

He said that despite a petition of 400 names, which opposed both developments, most people in Hove had accepted the new scheme as a fait accompli.

Mr Ayles said both were quite radical but he added: "That is what the council wanted. They wanted something which would attract a lot of comment and would be something out of the ordinary which would attract visitors."

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