The forecast for Brighton is: bricks, change, decay & sculpture
In Portslade, east Brighton, a discreet & gentle sculpture by artist Felicity Hammond collaborating with architecture & ideas studio CAN transforms the rigidity of brick into a sensual, softened abstract series of sculptures. Speaking to the local site’s history as well as shifts in climate & coastline, Forecast is a reminder of mutation, adaption & durability.

When the sea strikes fragile coastal cliffs, once permanent houses lining the periphery of the country often succumb to the forces, and bit by bit fall to the beach below. Those bits remain there, slowly bathed in tidal forces, turning what was once domestic into abstracted forms, laying lumpen like an accidental Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth.

There seems to be a few of these washed up deeper inland, secreted behind a 1920s Town Hall in the Portslade area of east Brighton. This part of the city had grown and developed over late 19th century seaside-tourism expansion, which carried with it new residential and commercial expansion. This included the nearby Ronuk polish factory, who commissioned local architect Gilbert Murray Simpson to construct the building as a social club for workers. But how did these pieces of industrial seashore detritus wash up a mile away from the water’s edge?

The forces that resulted in these pieces to end up in Portslade, sitting between the Town Hall and two new blocks of 42 new council homes, designed and built by Brighton and Hove County Council, are more artistic than natural, the outcome of a collaboration between artist Felicity Hammond and the architecture and ideas studio CAN. The three forms are called Forecast, and it speaks to the locality’s past as well as a future of the region and other coastal sites.

There is something uncanny about the forms, not least their shiny exterior which poetically responds to the neighbouring neo-Georgian building’s former use by the polish makers. They also have steel framing seemingly placed to wrap around the pieces to stop them drifting off to another place. The brick acts as a connector between the historic building and the newer blocks, a constant material bridging the century, and reminder of architecture’s ageing processes, while also referencing the area’s historic brickfields, large tracts of farmland which turned into clay quarries, leaving behind broken land which covered the area Ronuk built their club, with other expanses becoming the cemetery and parks which neighbour the sculptures.

Just as the whole landscape here was devastated by industrial processes, but has since softened through architecture and landscape over time, so too the solidity and geometry of Forecast’s brick appears to have softened and worn down, questioning permanence of place, purpose, and form. The three lumps act as warnings to the region’s shifting coastline, and manmade exacerbation of those forces, the steel elements like contorted ranging poles used to measure archaeology and history, but here having to distort their logic to understand the aesthetic changes. The sculptures themselves are made of cement mixed with aggregate formed of waste bricks from the council homes’ construction, and so this conversation over material mutation is embedded into the very making of the piece.

Of course, as with all conceptual art, there was dissent. Though a discreet, small, and gentle tryptic of brick might seem fairly innocuous, commentors on the local news site posted the mundane and expected cliches: “pretentious twaddle … this is why my council tax goes up every year … anyone know how much it cost?” and then the nonsensical, illogical, and racist “That money could of been spent on are homeless . They would been better off going to France and getting on a rubber boat and getting a hotel with full board.”

But, idiots are going to idiot. Of course, art won’t be and shouldn’t be liked by everyone, but as public sculpture goes this subtle and unobtrusive poem on changing places (which, incidentally, was remarkably cheap at £26,000) seems an odd thing to attack. But as time passes, people’s anger, views, and rage will also soften, and these abstracted forms will no doubt pick up nicknames and appreciation from the local community.

Felicity Hammond received an MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art in London in 2014 and completed her PhD in Contemporary Art Research at Kingston University in 2021. Recent public projects have included a major outdoor commission for Colchester and Ipswich Museum (2023) and a site-specific project for Photo Australia and the Metro Tunnel Creative Program in Melbourne (2021). Hammond’s first institutional solo exhibition took place at C / O Berlin in 2021, and her work has been in many international group exhibitions including Centre for Visual Art Denver, Garage Rotterdam, Fotomuseum Winterthur, and Saatchi Gallery. Hammond’s work has been internationally recognised for her unique approach to combining photographic practice with large scale installation, and has been nominated for and received a number of awards, including the Lumen Art Prize (2018), FOAM Talent (2016), and the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award (winner, 2016). Hammond’s first book, Property, was published in 2019 by Self Publish, Be Happy. She lives and works in London.

CAN is an architecture and ideas studio based in Catford, London. Founded in 2016, the studio has completed projects of varying scales from furniture and exhibitions through to artist studios, homes, and workplaces. They are currently working on the conversion of a WW2 bomber command centre into a home in Lincolnshire, a new workshop and learning hub for the community organisation STORE and a new dining chair commission. They have recently completed the Urban Rooms for the newly opened Farrell Centre In Newcastle Upon Tyne which focus on engaging the public in the past, present and future development of Tyneside.
CAN's work has featured in International and national press, including The Sunday Times, Wallpaper* and the Observer. They have won multiple awards for their work including two RIBA regional awards, the 2021 RIBA Rising Star award and were finalists for RIBA House of the Year 2022. They were included in The Observer's 'Top 5 Architecture of 2020' list.


Forecast is a freely viewable public sculpture. It can be found at behind Portslade Town Hall, Victoria Rd, Portslade, Brighton and Hove, BN41 1YF


All photographs © Will Jennings.

publication date
29 January 2024

Bricks, Brighton, CAN, Change, Climate change, Coast, Council houses, Decay, Felicity Hammond, Gilbert Murray Simpson, Portslade, Ronuk polish, Sculpture, Softening, Steel