The orgiastic excess of the Royal Pavilion aside, Brighton might seem to the casual observer a city more or less architecturally uniform, with two or three distinct styles: rows of Victorian terraced houses clinging on to the affected elegance of the Regency style long after its abandonment elsewhere, early examples of the desperately myopic nostalgia of the Mock-Tudor, and the occasional naïvely utopian tower-block, towering unhappily over its surroundings. As one might expect from a city that, in effect, did not exist two centuries ago, it is true that the architectural soul of Brighton is palpably Victorian. Rapid expansion during the 19th and early 20th Centuries has left it as an embodiment of a particular architectural epoch. Aesthetically, it is a city defined by its origins, and despite attempts by the hopelessly optimistic modernists to leave their footprint here and there it remains defiantly of the 19th Century.
It would be a disastrous mistake, however, to assume that Brighton’s temporality makes it somehow dull or uninteresting. Far from being merely uniform, it is a city bulging and sagging with the weight of innumerable flights of Victorian fancy. Elaborate pantomime might be met across the street by sober neoclassicism, both brimming, as is so characteristic of the architecture of the Long 19th Century, with manic eclecticism. Each turn of a Brighton street corner may bring into view a building inscribed all over with subtle signifiers and cultural relics.
This blog is an attempt to capture, partly for my own sake but also for anybody who might be interested, the extraordinary variety of architecture that Brighton possesses. I also want to demonstrate its importance as a physical record inscribed emphatically onto the physical landscape by two centuries of culture, in which the intricacies, follies and anxieties of each successive era might, whether in an elaborate oriel window or a row of Doric columns, be teased out and examined. This isn’t intended as a slavish ode to Brighton’s architectural canon, nor as a technical survey of various architectural styles, but rather an examination from an aesthetic standpoint of every aspect of Brighton’s built environment, from its infamous pier to a single terraced house.