Act 3 - Buildings to Collect Stories

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.51.03 I have recently discovered the delights of the Belgian Coast. A huge swathe of sandy coastline running from Dunkirk to Het Swin. Beautiful. Rugged. Windy. Brownbeige water. Good chips. Good beer. Unnecessarily good ice cream.

I couldn’t help but feel the absence of my countrymen, who largely bypass the region and head south once through the Eurotunnel.

Thinking of their slightly shabbier British cousin resorts that litter the eastern seaboard: I’m thinking of you Cleethorpes and you Skegness and I’m not forgetting you Filey, I have not yet felt the urge to dwell for longer than a few hours in their slightly edge-of-world inky-apocolyptic habitats.  Imagine being in Cleethorpes when the actual apocalypse comes. Clutching a battered sausage and a monstrously large portion of vinegar drenched chips.

In Der Haan there exists - perhaps having been there for some small eternity - a series of small whitewashed timber structures jostling for position on the beachfront in the manner of London garages or Mancunian snickets.

When one is opened - which seems to be a rather occasional instance - therein can be observed a small but not insignificant smorgasbord of beach-related delights and appendages; inflatables, buckets, boots, windbreaks, rugs, dog food, beer, water, plastic moulds, nets, parasols, hampers, cushions, towels, champagne glasses, bottle openers, coats, hats, kites, tackle, body-boards, knives, spades, bins, lighter fluid, mini-barbeques.

The romance contained in these condensed worlds seems to be the ability to exist for more than a few moments on this threshold of the wilderness. That you can watch a swelling tide emerge from the outer channel, that you can see the tide come in, that you can feel the weather change direction; all with your bottle of Tizer and radio fuzzing away in the background. Get more than one friend into your miniature palace and the place changes into an extended campfire. Harbouring stories and gossip as you gaze out to the sea.

In this sedate wilderness, these cabins and light enclosures become like extensions of the campfire, places to collect around and share stories. Recent conquests of waves or sand dunes, mid-distance stories about work happenings or long-distance memories of childhood. A carapace of personal and shared mythologies.

It was these qualities that we were seeking in our design for a series of new shelters for Bexhill Seafront. Here a smooth concrete base acts as an anchor for a tripartite wing-like structure that calls to mind the sails of windsurfs. The vast expanse of the sea is condensed into a small viewing position which accentuates the experience of weather conditions. The scattering sound of rainfall is amplified by the polycarbonate roof. Intermittent sunny spells cast shadows through the dense weave of the timber roof structure. Wind rushes over the aerodynamic form to allow you to feel close, but separate from the power of the storm.

In these moments the visitor might feel connected to a wilder place and possibly even open up a place of reflection.