Five good reasons why we should treasure this Art Deco gem

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Yesterday, David Callam explained why Segas House is wholly inappropriate to be used for a primary school, while questioning the architectural merit of the listed building.

Segas House, as it was in its prime, around the 1950s, and before Croydon's skyline became dominated by skyscrapers

Segas House, as it was in its prime, around the 1960s, and before it became dominated by Croydon’s skyscrapers

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 …

  1. It is a good, solid example of British Art Deco architecture. Not Bauhaus – but Brit Art Deco.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


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7 Responses to Five good reasons why we should treasure this Art Deco gem

  1. davidcallam says:

    Lewis: your five so-called tests are entirely subjective. And I disagree with each of your conclusions. The building is ugly and apparently useless, given the length of time it has stood idle.
    However, I suspect it will outlive both you and I because it would require an act of leadership on the part of Croydon Council to demolish it and that will not be forthcoming, whichever party is running the Town Hall.

  2. Duona says:

    Totally agree Lewis, too many good buildings of local historical interest have been demolished, the old Safari Cinema and the Half Moon pub to name but two.
    This is a beautiful building, attracts the eye when you pass on the bus still in its faded glory.
    Imagine it restored and in community use.

    • mraemiller says:

      Ah the Safari Cinema …I used to like screen number four which was back projected. The seats would snap if you sat too far forward …so you could play a game of waiting for them to give way beneath portly people. Also used to enjoy the sticky foors and the drug deals that went on in isles. Greatly enjoyed the near riots when the film snapped and the audience angrily asking for a refund because they thought the Blair Witch Project was rubbish. Much nicer building than Segas House.

      I’d like to save save Segas House but having walked past it many times I cant say I’ve noticed it and now it’s been pointed out to me I can’t say I feel “wow”. As to the wiring issues I dont think these are actually a big deal. The problem is more there is so much empty office space in Croydon. Who owns it anyway?

  3. Tom Voute says:

    It is always so sad to see good buildings of an earlier age, such as Segas House, being marooned in a scorched earth landscape of urban motorway planning, which is itself now badly out of date as urban design.

    Segas House has the misfortune of facing Wellesley Road, its underpass and the mindless urban clearance desert created in a bygone age – reminiscent of communist president Ceausescu of Romania’s destruction of Bucharest’s old city.

    In urban planning terms, you don’t look at historic buildings’ architectural qualities in isolation but in context, but how they form a harmonious whole. In the case of Segas House, that context has been virtually lost through large-scale planning vandalism in the past, but it seems unlikely that this will remain the case.

    In many historic cities, such as my native Utrecht in the Netherlands, the delicate urban fabric which was destroyed by excessive accommodation to the motor car has already largely been replaced with sensitivity and the cars banned. If we look at the Croydon case, where Segas House sadly faces the expanse of Park Lane, with its underpass in the centre and continuing into excessively wide Wellesley Road, it is blatantly obvious that, apart from its urban disamenity, such excessive space allocated to motor traffic simply doesn’t make economic sense.

    All that space is far too valuable as urban real estate for housing, offices and similar uses. As road space its excessive width represents lost economic value on a massive scale.

    We should preserve buildings such as Segas House because they will be a focus for the regeneration of Park Lane and Wellesley Road, to become once again urban spaces designed for people rather than cars. Once the space has been reclaimed for people, it will attract a much higher quality of building design and a better appreciation of the few remaining historic buildings.

    Because of the economic factor of sky-high land values in Central Croydon, I am confident that this will happen in my lifetime (and I am 65).

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  6. I agree that the building must be kept. In my view its a beautiful building that from the outside needs very little to bring it back to life.
    Im sure inside it needs a massive amount of work, but this does not mean it cannot be brought up to modern day standards.
    Croydon has so few decent buildings that to demolish this would be a crime.
    Indeed I find it incredible that it has been allowed to sit unoccupied for so long.
    The sooner it is modernised and reopened the better.

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