Brutalist lighthouse for modern architecture styles in the city

Art dealer and gallery founder Chris Clifford sings the praises of a building that helps add to the character of a neighborhood in St Helier.

Hue Court, designed in the brutalist style and built in the early 70’s, doesn’t seem to be widely regarded as a great piece of architecture and I’m quite willing to accept that my love for it may put me in the minority.

Perhaps it’s because there’s still a certain nostalgia attached to the area where the wholesale “slum clearance” of the 1970s saw hundreds of “craftsmen’s houses” in Old Street, Hue Street and Dumaresq Street washed away?

Certainly the highly successful restoration, by Save Jersey’s Heritage, of the row of 18th century cottages on Hue Street hints at what might have been achievable, but the truth is that these slums were uninhabitable and well beyond repair economic.

By demolishing a significant area of ​​the town and erecting grand modernist and brutalist inspired buildings, a new architectural character in St Helier has been created which now merits reassessment. Modernist and Brutalist architecture has always drawn criticism, including from the Prince of Wales, whose slightly eccentric speeches and writings have excoriated these styles, calling many structures “piles of concrete”.

Critics also found it unappealing due to its “cold” appearance projecting an atmosphere of totalitarianism, as well as associating the buildings, often arbitrarily, with urban decay, vandalism and graffiti. Despite this, modern and postmodern architecture is widely appreciated, as recently highlighted by the UK-based 20th Century Society, which submitted an application via Jersey Heritage to list the cafe La Frégate, which was also recently built. only in 1997 according to the plans of Stirling Prize-winning architect Will Alsop.

The modernist philosophical approach to architectural design strived to create simple, honest, and functional buildings that take into account their purpose, their inhabitants, and their location. Stylistically, Brutalism is a strict modernist design language that was a reaction to 1940s architecture, much of which was characterized by a “misty-eyed nostalgia” for the past.

‘Besides the precast facade panels, the main design feature that I most admire about Hue Court (interesting fact not listed) are the expansive cast concrete pilings exposed at the base of the building that project this social housing project utopian in the sky

Aside from the precast facade panels, the main design feature I most admire about Hue Court (interesting fact not listed) are the expansive cast concrete pilings exposed at the base of the building that project this housing project social utopian in the sky. No doubt inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s “water lily” dendriform columns of the SC Johnson Building, there are no other examples in the Channel Islands.

Why then, during a recent makeover, did we decide to cover them with cladding? Was it an attempt to “beautify” the architecture? If so, it strikes me as a small act of architectural vandalism and a lost opportunity to celebrate this unique piece of 20th century architectural design.

This in turn raises questions about the purpose of the many “heritage bodies” on the island, who rightly express the importance of salvaging, where possible, 18th and 19th century buildings, but seem ambivalent about to the good aspects of 20th century design.

Of course, not everything is perfect in Hue Court. Surrounding the two Brutalist-inspired towers at ground level are clusters of mundane, poorly designed townhouses, built, presumably, to recreate the impression of a Victorian streetscape.

In my opinion these have only served to detract from the mighty concrete structures above and seem, from a planning point of view, like a polite but badly managed attempt to pretend that St Helier is still a village of Victorian fishermen.

The opportunity surely exists to remove them and create a beautiful park which could act as a catalyst for the sensitive regeneration of an area which could encompass the modernist Romerils building while creating a large underground car park literally a few meters from the center of the center city ​​business. ?

It would also be a fantastic way to soften the outlines and harmonize the surrounding architecture, which is interesting because it spans several centuries.

So why do you think an art dealer is interested in questions of architectural history, urban design and regeneration? The answer lies in the fact that modernism and its cultural successor, postmodernism, both promoted important ideological principles and values ​​that have inspired the best in art and architectural design since the turn of the 20th century.

Art, design and architecture all speak a common language and have played an important role in solving the problems of their time. From Friday March 4 to April 1, you can visit an exhibition called Modern Postmodern, which opens at the Private & Public Gallery. A vast body of work by the ultimate 20th-century modernist, Pablo Picasso, will sit alongside postmodern masterpieces by Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter.

The exhibition is free and open to all from 12pm-6pm weekdays and 10am-2pm Saturdays at Phillips Street Gallery and the accompanying catalog contains an introduction to the differences between modern and postmodern design.