Folkestone Seafront – Sea Defences and Solutions
Folkestone Seafront is one of the best places to spend time in our town. This iconic stretch of coastline is to be developed to offer an amazing location to live. Folkelife spoke to Duarte Lobo Antunes, from ACME, the architecture practice working with the Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company. We talked about how to protect the new buildings from the sea environment.
“The project’s engineering consultants took a very conservative approach to the whole issue of climate change, planning for a one in 200-year flood risk as well as taking into account rising sea levels. They proposed a solution that required re-contouring of a large proportion of the site. So, in 2017, extensive work was done on the area between the Harbour Arm and the Lower Leas Coastal Park. Contractors excavated and removed the tarmac and concrete hardstanding and remnants from the old Rotunda fairground, most of which had remained empty for more than a decade. Some of the land was previously used as railway carriage sidings, so the site has a very mixed past.”
Installing the boardwalk
“The foreshore was raised using material excavated from the future building plots, an imaginative and effective way of avoiding the need to bring huge volumes of material to site. Shingle was added back to dress the surface, giving the whole area a “beach-like” appearance. Most people will remember that it didn’t look like nearly as attractive before work started. At the same time, we designed a new Boardwalk to create a link between the Lower Leas Coastal Park area and the Harbour Arm.
“The shingle is also arranged in such a way that it indicates shapes of future buildings, These will be built in crescent formations to help reflect the architectural style of buildings that already exist in Folkestone and to soften the transition from the beach itself to the town behind.”
Plans for the harbour and seafront received outline planning consent in 2015. Since then, ACME have worked on more detailed proposals for individual buildings, many of which will be arranged in crescent formations. The first of these, known at this stage as “Plot B”, will be located near the base of the Leas Lift. It takes the form of a semi-circular building with two ‘bookends’ up to 8 storeys tall, with a longer section between them of up to 4 storeys.
Duarte explains the concept: “The question around the height was not without controversy, but we felt that we could use the natural contours of the site to aesthetic advantage whilst reducing the overall footprint of the buildings. By adding extra height in certain places we could create significantly greater gaps between the buildings whilst still producing the same amount of overall floor space.”
refining and defining space
“In the first version of the outline scheme, it was proposed that a rather greater area of land would be built on: in our refined designs we have factored in much more space, allowing for improved views between buildings, including those to and from the Leas Lift. We will create a boulevard feel to Marine Parade, which will build on the character of existing buildings and its backdrop of the cliff. Taken together with the shingle gardens between the various phases of buildings this will help establish a much softer transition between the sea, beach and the established townscape.
“Our task now is to refine our proposals, designing down to the smallest detail: it is important to get this right and not to rush it. This needs to be something that will stand the test of time, where people will feel comfortable living and that people who already live here will reflect that it fits well with existing development. Good design often entails having the insight and courage to anticipate how people in the future will feel about what was built in the past, although we are clearly setting out to improve the urban landscape for the present.
“Clearly, in practical terms, preparations will need to be made before we start to build: we cannot simply build on the shingle. We will need to create foundations that reach down to bedrock for the two “bookend” sections of the plot and for the podium structures. This means piling up to thirty metres deep.”
When the plans were first shown to the public at Customs House in 2018, the final plans on how these buildings would be clad had yet to be decided on. Duarte explains why this is a difficult decision: “There was a lot of discussion about how you can clad these buildings, to be low maintenance, to resist the weather, and the conditions of being right next to the sea whilst still being economical and making sense. Brick would have been a solid option but there aren’t many light-brick buildings in Folkestone, so that didn’t make sense, it wasn’t the appropriate language. Then we looked at just rendering it, but that needs to be maintained.
“So we thought: what is a rugged material that needs almost no maintenance? The easy answer is pebble dash, but it has a reputation, and do we want that? However, we can turn this reputation around; it is such a good material to use, but what happens if we change the aggregate in the mix? We could use crushed glass instead of pebbles. The pebble inclusion makes this quite a dull material to use, but if we use crushed glass that will bring the material to life.
“It will have all these reflections from the light, mirroring the glinting from the sea and also be resistant to the weather and the sea. It’s something we’re testing, and soon we’ll have some bigger mock-ups close to the station to show. It makes sense to use recycled glass. The sleepers which make up the Boardwalk are recycled. It makes perfect sense, and we’ll do the same whenever possible, to use sustainable and recycled products within this development.”
this is folkestone
“With the materials on the facades reflecting the glinting of the sea, and the curvature of the landscape being incorporated within the shape of the buildings too, this development helps to arrive at a synthesis of the everything; being local but being of now, of tomorrow, and creating something that people recognise, and say ‘I understand this is Folkestone’. This is what we call diamond dash – this is Folkestone.
“This development has actually been done in a very unusual way. The betterments, the public realm of the Harbour Arm, viaduct and public areas across the sea front were delivered first. It’s not an accident, they were delivered first showing people this area as a place to live, showing the potential in this area, and for residents present and future to be confident in the investment in the area.”
Detailed design and other preparations are moving ahead so that work can begin on the first phase of the residential development. In the meantime, renovation and maintenance continues apace in the Harbour, Station and Viaduct areas to improve the experience enjoyed by thousands of people who visit every week.
Integration is key
“We always thought the Harbour Arm was great, it has such an amazing position, sitting out to sea, you can look back at the town. The Harbour Arm needs to be part of the system, it needs to be integrated. People need to find loads of reasons to come down, through that route, to be involved and we wanted to make that route interesting as well.
“One of the things we did was the boardwalk. When it comes to the end of the beach, it connects with the top part of the Harbour Arm. Historically, if you look at old photographs of the Arm, it was once a promenading area, but it was inaccessible after the harbour lost its function and we wanted to recreate that connection. It’s really important that the boardwalk finishes up at the top deck of the Harbour Arm. It means you can make a circular link. The Harbour Arm, in a way, is a dead end, and this way, with the Boardwalk, you have more options in the way you circulate. The spirit of the whole thing is to make it easy to use.”
Duarte highlights the ethos behind ACME’s approach in Folkestone: “Collaboration is what makes Folkestone work. When you take someone on, hire them to your office or bring someone into your family, those people have to be committed to the vision for the long-term. The vision here is very much led by Sir Roger De Haan, but now a lot of people have latched on to that vision; they have got involved and are contributing to making Folkestone a great place to live.
“It’s not just building some houses on the seafront, it’s more than that. It’s a range of different people raising up the town, and that’s why it’s working. We didn’t know it would be such an absorbing project, and we’re very happy that it is, we feel like we’re very much invested in the whole project.”
Duarte and his team are now at an advanced stage of working up detailed designs for “Plot B”, which received planning permission in December 2018. The site is at the western end of the development, close to the Leas Lift, and will include 84 apartments and townhouses.