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Observer Building Graffiti

Observer Building Graffiti

Ways 2 OB

The revised proposals for the old Observer Building [OB] in Hastings Town Centre were launched recently, reports Bernard McGinley. What happens next?

As announced here, the revised plans for the Observer Building in Cambridge Road were launched last week. The bonhomie of the Flint Development Group was palpable as the fizz and mince pies were distributed, and the people present scrutinised mildly the new illustrations of the new proposals. Also available were copies of a 24-page booklet in the campaign’s signature yellow (close to Selfridge’s Pantone, ref 14–0760that deserves a place in local history collections) that insisted on the merits of the new designs.  

In the booklet and on the OB walls, illustrations showed a variety of designs from the history of possibilities, rather than the flagged proposals. A week after the (re)launch, the new plans are still not yet posted online and so the detail remains unclear.  

Some close focus will concern the treatment of the existing top storey — itself a later and shoddy addition. (This is the area behind the crested shield on the fourth floor.) Is the new building to be a successful contrast between ‘commendable old’ and ‘exciting new’? Or are old and new making an unsavoury ugly sandwich?  

The developers presented the possibilities in a notably polarised way:

Another 30 years of dereliction

OR

Giving these proposals and this area – a chance

Some dilemma. The PR has been impressive. Around town, graffiti and miniposters suggest a level of street support that may or may not exist. In the summer, the Council were also notably supportive. By contrast, the public response to the OB proposals was somewhat muted — in part because of the Council’s refusal to accept any objections without a case reference.  

Observer Building graffiti

Observer Building graffiti

As well as fizz and food at the new launch, proforma letters of support were available for signing — and a box to post them in. Strangely, the reference quoted there (DCQ/15/ 00592) seems to be an enquiry one, not a planning one. (In the summer, Hastings Borough Council stated in writing that objections to the OB proposals would not be heeded before the planning application had a reference number. Does that principle also therefore invalidate these letters of support?)

20151212_134202The revitalisation of the Observer Building as a café-bar / cinema / fooderie / roof garden / market / gallery pop-up hangout series of creative spaces (with ‘the coolest student digs in the UK’ up top) is unobjectionable, given proper sound insulation. (Additionally the free public-access deck sounds a distinct improvement on the Shard’s at London Bridge.)

Allan’s Army from the local Holy Trinity Church added to the sense of progress and preference, and have undoubtedly done some excellent work in cleaning up the building inside and out, including the adjoining alley in Claremont possibly to be known as Gotham Alley.

The estimable duo of Dublin & Holland are certainly doing a good job in managing and promoting the lower spaces, but the heart of any response to this major proposal concerns the extension to the building. Given the local history of high rise, precedent is not much of an argument against, as history of the White Rock area shows, including the fluctuating profile of Verulam Place, opposite the Pier.

The first proposal for the OB was seen by Flint’s Jeff Kirby as a ghost image: perhaps a kind of architectural version of Rachel Whiteread’s beautiful ‘Inverted Plinth’ (2001) in Trafalgar Square, the sculpture an airy reflection of the base.

20151215_102854The revised version of the OB is slightly tapered instead of monolithic, and ‘with a different materiality and form’.   The polycarbonate of the original proposals has been replaced by ‘cast glass planks’. The proposed 250 bedrooms are now down to 232. The 7 extra storeys are reduced to 5 (the top 2 set back), perhaps in acknowledgement of realpolitik and Conservation Area 16 (Hastings Town Centre).

But the campaign to sell the OB remains unsettling.  On page 2 of the booklet can be read: FLINT – aims to detonate a nuclear bomb of goodness.

On that basis the OB is a fallout shelter.  They rapidly go on to explain: Make no mistake, we’re troublemakers not do-gooders.

Perhaps such declarations play well with the rad student demographic, but they don’t make these proposals any more appealing or add – externally – to the kick of being in Hastings. Is this really the only choice until 2045?  What would be a sight more transgressive or transfixing would be a return to the principle of beauty in building.

Hastings Observer Building

Hastings Observer Building

Ensure a development of distinction

At the (re)launch, a choir fundraising for a local charity gave a fine, a cappella version of Desmond Dekker’s ska classic, The Israelites:

Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir,

So that every mouth can be fed . . .

The revised proposals are undoubtedly an improvement on the previous ones, but there remains an apparent breach of the Council’s height policy, defined in various places including the Planning Inspector’s Report to Hastings Borough Council of 29 May 2015:

57. . . . The D[evelopment] M[anagement] P[lan] carries forward and amplifies its guiding principles. It includes useful advice for prospective developers and its Policy HN1 sets out criteria against which proposals for development which have the potential to impact upon the significance of designated heritage assets will be assessed. The criteria usefully include the historic context, street patterns, plot layouts, siting, scale, height, massing, appearance, materials and finishes. It rightly draws attention to the importance of protecting views, including the dramatic one of Hastings Castle.

Elsewhere, in the Report to Full Council of 23 September 2015, it was stated of the Development Management Plan’s ‘New Policy concerning Design, etc’:

Of principal and greater consequence [than numbers of dwellings] for every scheme, however, will be matters which include design, height, mass, appearance of the proposed building(s), layout (including the provision of a safe and convenient access), trees, biodiversity, green infrastructure and relationship with the surroundings including nearby buildings and views of the Borough’s natural and historic assets (including Hastings Castle) . . .

For development within Conservation Areas, the Council will insist on schemes of distinctive design, quality and character consistent with the statutory requirement to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the Area. A similar approach will be taken with regard to any scheme which would affect the setting of a Conservation Area.  [Appendix 1.]

Will this approach ‘ensure a development of distinction’ as the Council says in Appendix 1?  Is it, in the local idiom, ‘good enough for Hastings’? Soon enough HBC’s planning committee will decide, but distinction of that kind is not what they are noted for. Public opinion also matters about this supposed protection and enhancement of the Observer Building, and what to make of the self-styled troublemakers. The Council can be let know, for or against [planning ref unknown] — by email or snail mail or skyline pigeon post.

20151215_102200

Posted 09:57 Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 In: Home Ground

7 Comments

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  1. Lady Peacock

    Good points here Quintus and can Tobi show us where he finds any justification/evidence to say that this council has ‘played a key role in halting destructive proposals’ and other worthy actions? Because sure as that hot place down there, few would recognise these complimentary praises. Quite the opposite in fact. All around we bear witness to the slow but methodical destruction of all that is fine about this town. ‘Regeneration’ can be a very destructive route.

    Comment by Lady Peacock — Wednesday, Dec 23, 2015 @ 08:38

  2. Quintus

    In all those hundreds of extra words there’s nothing said about how many extra storeys Tobi wants to see on top of the OB. 5 more floors 7? 10? More? He may want to live in Croydon-on-Sea, but many of us quite like the built Hastings & St Leonards broadly the way it is — or at least want to stop its distinctiveness and spaciousness being relentlessly destroyed.

    He seems to be in a different place anyway:
    ‘The council and the conservation area status has also played a key role in this; grotbusting, halting destructive proposals, and guiding good quality and appropriate design decisions where possible.’

    What destructive proposals were halted by HBC? Where are the results of these ‘good quality’ design decisions to be seen? What does ‘where possible’ mean when the Council keeps proclaiming its commitment to high standards? Why don’t they happen? How many notorious cases does it take before the conclusion is reached that the planning department is not acting in the best interests of the residents of this borough?

    Conservation isn’t preservation. Good modern design would be welcome, but it’s not seen in Hastings where crap new building abounds.

    Comment by Quintus — Saturday, Dec 19, 2015 @ 13:01

  3. Tobi

    I just re-read my original post – it does sound like I’m a plant! Ha ha! It’s just the way it came out!

    Comment by Tobi — Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 @ 17:28

  4. Tobi

    It’s interesting that I’m suspected of being a developer plant simply because this project excites me! I am in no way connected to the project nor do I know anyone who is! I suppose we get so used to reading comments on articles where people are negative, that when someone comes forward who actually likes something, it seems a bit weird!

    Hi Quintus, I don’t want to be drawn into arguing with people on the internet. I’d prefer it if people were genuinely interested in asking me questions as to why my opinion differs from theirs that they’d ask me nicely, as they hopefully would face to face, rather than ridiculing me. However, in response: Yes I do genuinely love the height, for all the reasons I stated. I also love conservation areas, and believe passionately in protecting them, enhancing them, and nurturing them. But where my opinion differs from yours is that I personally do not believe that a conservation area HAS to remain exactly the same. Are we saying that we have simply decided in the later half of the 20th Century that certain areas will remain unchanged for all time? How long is forever? Are we saying it should be exactly the same in 500 years time? I see a conservation area as more about outlining an area that we cherish and love and want to look after. This will include protecting or restoring cherished and loved historic buildings, streets and views, but it will also be about carefully debating how or if we include architecture of the modern world or the future for that matter. No place will stay the same, even if we slap a ‘conservation area’ tag on it.

    This particular area of town fascinates me because it is at a turning point. It has been rotting for so many years. But bold new businesses are now beginning to move in, bit by bit edging the town towards a more ‘attractive’ future. The council and the conservation area status has also played a key role in this; grotbusting, halting destructive proposals, and guiding good quality and appropriate design decisions where possible. Personally I believe that good quality design whether it be historical, modern or proposed 100 years from now can and should always be considered. I love the shiny new skycrapers towering over the Georgian streets in Spitalfields in London! In London you see centuries of change; great fires, blitz bombing, prosperity and bust, post-war developments, conservation and new architecture side by side. It is loved and hated… but it is life! And it reflects its life and the journey that the city has taken over 2 millennium! I want to be a part of a Hastings/St Leonards that can live and breathe and is open to reflecting its own changes. Because the changes will happen! As I said earlier, this town wont be the same in 500 years time! So if this Observer Building proposal is a change that we can become a part of, then we simply have to voice our opinion and hope that it will make a difference!

    I am not frightened by its height. But I do worry slightly that the quality or beauty of the build might not be executed as well as implied – although this isn’t based upon anything other than fear of the unknown. I am impressed and excited by what I have seen so far – so I just hope that it is as high quality a piece of modern design as it appears in these images. I am also impressed by the general presentation and the aesthetic, graphic and design choices that the company have made so far with regards to their running of the building in its current form, their websites, and their overall psychology. I love it! And I actually believe that if this gets built that it will become one of the most important catalysts for positive change that this area of town has seen in the last few decades! Possibly even more powerful than the pier! A symbol of the new energy of the town, striving more boldly into a brighter future!

    Of course, I’m sure that final line makes me look like I’m working for the developer, maybe a paid off member of the planning department, or some other conspiracy theory… 😉

    But… I’m just not.

    I’m just me.

    Comment by Tobi — Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 @ 17:18

  5. Quintus

    It’s good to see that the influence of The Fast Show endures. If Tobi absolutely LOVES the height, is the addition of 7 storeys better than the addition of 5? Why not advocate 10? Brilliant!

    The largely-Victorian integrity of place (a Conservation Area) once gone cannot be replaced.

    Comment by Quintus — Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 @ 12:04

  6. Belstone

    I have very mixed feelings about this.

    Hats off to the developers for how they have engaged with the creative community that might otherwise have provided loud voices against. I suspect that “Tobi” is a plant from the developers to keep up the positive noise.

    I believe that the developers can be further pressed to reduce the number of floors above the original building to 2 or 3, and that this would not make the project unviable but would reduce their profits from the scheme. Unless they open their books to us we can call their bluff on profitability.

    Comment by Belstone — Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 @ 11:21

  7. Tobi

    I’d already posted my comments, but that article seems to have moved on now, so I’m re-posting.

    I love the modern addition sitting on top of the old Observer Building concept! I also absolutely LOVE the height! I think that the additional height in this corner of town will add to the feeling of urban vibrancy and activity. I love the way this town fluctuates between quiet old village, vibrant old village, Victorian suburbia, and almost city like vibrant density in certain corners – I think this will add to that range! I hope that it will be executed as slickly and as beautifully as the artists impressions and photographs of similar high quality architecture imply – this I believe is key.

    In terms of the usage of the building and the general angle of the venture I love it! I love its vision for the town! I love that it is clearly taking part in the NEW, “regenerating”, “up-and-coming” version of Hastings/St Leonards! (The version that is actually the exciting reality of this town!) I think that the majority of the upper floors being used for student accommodation is brilliant; I think it seems like the best option weighing up all other considerations at this point in time for Hastings. I think that the ground floor usage for high quality publicly accessibly space (restaurant/gallery/cinema) is vital and essential. Personally I would love to see that also be the first floor aswell, and maybe some mixed studio space worked in there too! I absolutely love the public roof garden idea! A brilliant, brilliant idea! Please keep this in! I also think this would be key to winning public hearts to the project! But please commit to it being impressive; not just a flat roof with a few miserable potted plants around a bad cafe. I love the general arty edge to the design – the visible industrial feel retained along with graffiti – I hope that this approach stays and it doesn’t become over sanitized, cleaned up, and ultimately bland! Keep the arty edge!

    It goes without saying that the restoration of the original Observer Building for the lower floors is an absolute winner. But to only have done that would’ve been a bit boring. Your proposals are fantastic! Good luck!

    Comment by Tobi — Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 @ 10:35

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