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Building Opinions: Robert Nemeth on Cairns Tower

1883 saw Sir Thomas Graham Jackson appointed to design a structure at Brighton College that would become the school’s most recognisable element. Facing Eastern Road, Jackson’s huge red-brick edifice is what greets visitors and the public. But a lack of funds led to the omission of a key element of Jackson’s design.

Building Opinions
The Cairns Tower opened in December to complete what was started by Jackson 130 years ago. It takes its name from the school’s current Head. A stubby gatehouse, consisting of a pair of arched entranceways with the Head Master’s office above, has been doubled in height to become a glorious tower. Two floors, including an entertaining space and huge office, have been added. A cupola at the top can now be seen from far into the distance (and is particularly attractive from Whitehawk Hill at sunset).


An original design by Sir Thomas, a former Brighton College student who designed a number of Oxford colleges, provided inspiration for the tower, but Richard Griffiths Architects were employed to reinterpret the scheme. The results are incredible.


As per the rest of the building around it, brick has been used on the tower’s southern elevation and flint on the northern. There are terracotta dressings throughout. Its windows are bronze, its cupola is lead, and its pelican weathervane is copper.


Such work is not cheap and justifying it is an interesting exercise. My view is that architecture has meaning. The tower isn’t about two new rooms. There is a strong message behind it, waiting to be interpreted by anybody who cares to think. To me, it is about finishing what you set out to achieve, however much time it takes.


With time in mind, the newly-commissioned clock by Smith of Derby is a fascinating subject in itself and worthy of a future column.
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robert@buildingopinions.com

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