Gehry seafront towers to dominate Brighton

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The Independent Online

Frank Gehry, the Californian architect who gave Bilbao the titanium tsunami known as the Guggenheim Museum, is poised to overwhelm the city of Brighton and Hove's seafront with a £30m development resembling a chunk of Canary Wharf after a tactical nuclear strike.

Gehry's scheme, created in association with the British architect, Piers Gough, was one of three proposals by Brighton and Hove city council. The council, which is struggling to settle the future of the Grade I-listed West Pier, wants its moment of postmodern urban glory. Its policy and resources committee agreed to pursue Gehry's plan yesterday.

Two consortiums were shortlisted to redevelop the 1.5 acre (0.7ha) site of the King Alfred leisure centre in Hove, built in 1938. A third scheme, by Lord Rogers, was dumped: his sober arrangement of five mixed-use blocks with a sports centre for Countryside Properties was a safe and relatively low-slung design.

Gehry's plan was strongly favoured by the council. But it faced a final opponent: the Barratt-Brunswick consortium, which gave Wilkinson Eyre free rein to propose an oddly syncopated ribbon of blocks. It was jazzy and, like Rogers' package, horizontal rather than explosively upwardly mobile.

The Californian's vision will launch a thousand metaphors: crumpled trousers patched with Shreddies, ice lollies jammed into shattered Cornettos, and so on. And the text accompanying the Karis-Ing consortium's scheme was equally absurd in its hyperbole, referring to a "continuous ribbon of luscious listed buildings ... the whole city is involved in a celebration of where the delirious man-made meets the raw energy of the sea".

Luscious delirium is not the kind of trigger-phrase normally applied to large publicly funded urban redevelopment, and not when the council wants to pack 600 flats for key workers and socially assisted tenants into a small area. Brighton's planning committee is likely to agree a detailed version of the scheme in six months. If it is less delirious by then, Gehry's involvement may seem to have been as much a marketing move as an architectural one.

After failing to win mass approval for the dreary West Pier redevelopment, the council hopes a scheme by an international architect will give its planners street cred and attract more stylish development.

Gehry's scheme - daring, ruthlessly ugly, far too tall - is not as unlikely as it might seem. The King Alfred centre is the last significant outbreak of bricks and mortar at the west end of the seafront, and the architect's rumpled tower blocks could be seen as an expletive-cum-exclamation mark marking the end of the promenade.

The acid test relates to scale but that does not appear to worry the council. Its leader, Ken Bodfish, said: "This is the most prestigious coastal development site in Britain. That is reflected in the quality of the bids and the high calibre of the bidders shortlisted."