Here, LEWIS WHITE, a chartered landscape architect from Coulsdon, champions its Art Deco design and offers a useful future for this landmark building
As a Croydon resident who remembers Segas House when it was a working building, I have been thinking for several years – decades perhaps – since its abandonment into the very questions raised by David Callam. And having thought long, hard and deeply, I say: David Callam, you are very wrong!
Here is why.
There is a five-part test of whether to keep an old building, at the very least. Anyone not considering these is not playing fair by the building, by the historical architectural record, or by the general quality of the urban landscape or “townscape”.
- First, as building of its times, how good a building is it as a piece of architecture?
- Second, how does it contribute to its urban context? Does it lend quality, is it neutral, or is a blight?
- Third, is it a well-crafted building, well-proportioned, well-built, and using materials well?
- Fourth, in the “population” of buildings in the town, does the building represent a specific time or era, and – if it were demolished – would it leave a “gap” in the architectural history or memory of the town?
- Fifth, can the building be converted to a suitable modern use without losing its essential identity?
Having thought about this, for something like 20 years, I would say …
- It is a good, solid example of British Art Deco architecture. Not Bauhaus – but Brit Art Deco.
- It is far from being a blight on the townscape, nor merely “neutral”. I would say that it it definitely lends quality to the townscape. It is very different from the nearby High Edwardian Flemish-style Town hall, and from the 1960s Nestle Tower, or from the 1950s mini-Festval Hall that is the Fairfield. I would have said that it is very different from the well-crafted, lozenge-shaped 60s icon, Taberner House (but sadly that is being demolished). It is certainly very different from the modern glass of Bernard Wetherill House. In fact, Segas House is an excellent visual foil to all of these, with its horizontal lines, and ceramic tiled buff coloured exterior and high quality windows and doors.
- It is a well-crafted building, with smooth ceramic tiling (still in excellent condition after years of neglect) and bronze detailing in the windows and doors.
- It represents a confident era, important in the life of Croydon, when the modern utilities of gas and electricity revolutionised and improved everyone’s lives. To demolish it would be to impoverish the historical memory of these times, and thus diminish Croydon’s colective architectural memory.
- And yes, it can be converted. Technology is all the time minaturising, and maybe soon the cabling we think essential may be a thing of the past. The building can be converted to many uses without jeopardising its quality. In fact, to introduce a modern, equally well-crafted structure inside it, or behind it, might well not only be necessary to achieve a conversion, but might also – in the right hands of a decent architect – result in the high-quality contrast of modern architecture of our times, contrasting with the Segas characteristic Art Deco materials and horizontal lines. The lesson of St Pancras and Euro star is that the contrast of styles is very satisfying.
The historian Lewis Mumford said that a town without old buildings is like a man without a memory.
For Croydon to retain just the deep past (the Whitgift Almshouses and Old Palace) but demolish a distinguished Art Deco building, and knock down the buildings between then and our own day, would be just the same. Tragic. And totally avoidable.
So please go and look at Segas House, look at its high-quality design, detailing and materials – and then think.
I hope that you will conclude that this building is far too special, representative of a confident era in the life of Croydon, and well-made, to sacrifice, and of a craftsmanship that will not be recreated in modern architecture.
I would welcome use by a client who valued and adapted it sensitively. Roehampton University could be just that client. Maybe Croydon College could be, too.
Coming to Croydon
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- David Lean Cinema: Finding Vivian Maier, Oct 16
- 21st annual Croydon and Sutton Beer Festival, Oct 16-18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- Purley War Memorial Hospital health fair, Oct 18
- Maya Angelou tribute concert, Fairfield Halls, Oct 18
- Wandle Park wildflower meadow project, Oct 19
- St John’s, Shirley, charity concert, Oct 19
- David Lean Cinema: Mood Indigo, Oct 23
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, 2.30pm, Oct 25
- David Lean Cinema: Ilo Ilo, Oct 28
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- David Lean Cinema: Belle, Oct 30
- NHS free health fair, Central Parade, New Addington, Oct 31
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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