Brighton re imagined from afar.

Nicolas Barthomeuf undertook an interesting project set in Brighton during his fifth year studies in Strasbourg. Here Nicolas describes some of the project elements to understand the process of the project he imagined for the West Pier. It is interesting to see how Brighton is re imagined from the outside.

Here Nicolas describes some of the project elements to understand the process of the project he imagined for the West Pier.

“In my opinion, Brighton is a mutating city. Born in the early 1800’s with the emergence of seasides resorts with an elegant taste, it began to be affected by mass tourism and capitalism in the 1950-60’s. From a holiday resort, it had to cope with the issues of a real city and evolve into a more mature agglomeration.
The peculiarity of a seaside town is that it doesn’t really have a proper centre because everything is facing the sea. The centre is not punctual but linear and the main public space is the beach. With that in mind, we understand more the purpose of piers, and especially the West pier. It was designed as a gathering place, where everyone could benefit the joys of being close to the water. Today, I think the palace pier somehow lost its identity. When I was living next to St James street, I never went on a walk on it because I was seeking a genuine connexion with the sea and I eventually started to feel like the pier had only become a trademark, a tool to push people to consume even more because the location of the pier “outside” the city was an authorization to do delirious acts.

I think Brighton has to remember where it comes from and what it stands for. Today, the city is a quieter place than London, with a great and stimulating atmosphere for creative companies, artists, students, but also for commuters that works in the capital.

A pier like this, on the traces of the old one would become a new landmark, a symbol of regeneration and acceptance of the past.

Therefore, as it would be dedicated to everyone, it would reconciliate tourists and inhabitants. Designed as an urban device and flexible enough to host a lot of events and activities during the year such as Christmas markets, sport competition, musical festivals, it could become a high spot of the city of Brighton & Hove.

The process was very hard because of the lack of anchors. Usually, to design a building, the context gives a lot of answers that guide and support the choices.
Here, the first things to think about were theoretical, to create rules and principles to guide me in the design process.
The basic size comes from the city’s morphology. Regency square is 70m wide, so I chose to stick on that dimension to make it work together with it.
The palace pier is 500m long, which I find convenient for a walk as it is sufficient to have a good view of the city, but not too long for a short walk. It was settled then that my pier would keep these dimensions.

I decided then to think about the uses I would put in it. I wanted it to be a public space, without any housing or integrated shops, but it could become a gathering place, suitable for sports, promenade, and cultural events.
As it is a public space with no constraints, it could host sports facilities that require a huge amount of space and then they could work along with the existing promenade.

The integration of the 400m running track and the 250m velodrome was the biggest challenge because of the size of them, but I was sure that they would bring to the pier a unique design and a peculiar experience when using them.
The running track, for a better effect, is not “put” on the pier structure but suspended by a self-sufficient structure to make it look levitate, but we have to thicken it to make it stand, giving space for a multipurpose gallery, a cafeteria and a small library, all connected to the concert hall.
In the middle of the running track, the void left is here for several reasons. First, it’s approximately where the ruins of the west pier were, so there could be some reminder in the ground to commemorate it. Secondly, it gives a generous public space that can be covered in winter thanks to the giant structure. When you’re there, you are surrounded by the track, and you feel somehow in a special place, disconnected from the city, but also at the very edge of it.

I worked with diagrams, to show that the most dynamics activities would be placed in the middle of the pier, acting both as an attractive place, and a gate that you pass before getting to the end of the pier, embracing the horizon, and suitable for a spiritual and cultural purpose.

In the end, the pier would be a place dedicated to contemplation, with large spaces offering a lot of spots to enjoy the views either on the sea and the city.

Also, the tidal range is about 7m at the maximum, so it would look different depending on the time of the day.”

“Now coming to the feasibility of the project… It would cost a lot to dismantle the old pier, and when you consider the scale of the project, it would take 3 years to build the new one properly. But in the end, if we believe in brighter days, with a strong economy and a positive way of making architecture, I am pretty sure that everybody would like to see a new pier for Brighton, maybe not my version, but the case must be discussed.
At first, people would hate the fact of wiping the ruins of the past, just as I thought when designing the project. Actually, I took the ruins out of my sketches very lately, just as if the grieving was finally over.” The west pier’s ruins have become over the years part of Brighton’s identity. It is a symbol of the past, of people trusting in the future, willing to invent new places to enjoy their environment.
Today, even though the derelict ruins tend to break down a little bit more with each storm, they have become a monument, a part of Brighton’s landscape, and I understand people that want to leave them as they are. At some points, the fact that it doesn’t look like anything else, that it doesn’t have any purpose and remains inaccessible is strengthening the attachment of people to it. We can say it has become a sculpture, built over time, child of Brighton heritage.
That’s why people are scared of something new that would look like a modern version of the palace pier and would destroy some of city’s charm.”