It’s Hip to Be Square

Paul Zara from Conran & Partners

I think sometimes we forget quite what a beautiful city we inhabit.  OK, there are areas that could do with substantial improvement. But we are so lucky that when Brighton (and its slightly posher neighbour, Hove), stopped being sleepy villages full of fishing folk and were invaded by the Prince Regent and his buddies that the architecture of the time was Regency.  Beautiful creamy stuccoed buildings with rich classical decoration and sensuous bowed windows and iron balconies.

We all know about The Prince, his acquisition of what was known as The Royal Marine Pavilion, and how he changed it over time from a rather fine looking, plain farmhouse to what is possibly the barmiest palace in the country.  If you’ve never been then go – it’s a stunning treat for the eyes. The Prince made Brighton the famous fun destination it remains to this day.

But it’s the legacy of the seafront crescents and squares that really do it for me.  In the east we have the splendid curves of Lewes Crescent sweeping round in to Sussex Square, the grandest of houses around a private square with its own tunnel to the beach.  It’s a beautiful end to the city on a drive out of town along the coast road.

To the west the last magnificent set piece in Hove is my favourite, Adelaide Crescent with its double curved terraces around the gardens which then head straight up to Western Road. And nearby Brunswick Terrace (pictured above) is about as good as a terrace can get.

Imagine the impact of these grand constructions when they first completed.  Aren’t they so much more bold and radical than anything proposed for the city today? Royal Crescent is another much loved seafront development – originally it marked the eastern end of town. Its use of black shiny mathematical tiles would have been a strong design statement, so much better than the half-hearted render blocks that seem to be the generic modern architectural solution in our city.

We have The Regency Society to thank for all this.  Without them the post war plans for Brighton and Hove could have wrecked this fine heritage. They managed to get so many buildings listed and conservation areas formed, the buildings are now very well protected.

These squares, crescents and terraces have stood the test of time. They remain highly desirable addresses and give us some of the finest examples of Regency architecture in the country.  So next time you are strolling along the seafront take time to appreciate the beauty of what we have here – surely no other city has such architectural magnificence right by the sea.

Paul Zara is a director of architects Conran and Partners. Email: