Sited in a sunken garden beside the beach in Littlehampton, West Sussex, UK, these ‘Acoustic Shells’ act as a stage and shelter for the local community. Prompted by a desire to reinvigorate Littlehampton with its gentility of the early 20th century, the shells materially enhance the public open space of the adjacent greensward and satisfy an essential social need that is not provided elsewhere in the area.
The concept for the shells is derived from the notion of a traditional bandstand; following the industrial Revolution and worsening conditions in urban areas, bandstands were conceived as a response by local authorities to an increased need for green open spaces where the general public could relax. Following the first bandstand in Britain in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in South Kensington in 1861, bandstands became hugely popular, and were subsequently installed in parks across the country. Competing with new medias in the 20thC; cinema and television, bandstands lost their appeal, and fell into disuse.
However, the new world of social media has further democratised the production and distribution of music. No longer the preserve of elite musicians, popular music is now being made by anyone, and played anywhere, whether this is online, or in public. The Acoustic Shellsare a response to this context, bringing back an old ideal, an architecture that can represent ‘sound’, and the people that made it.
One shell faces the town and forms the principal bandstand. The acoustic design of the interior creates a reflective surface to project the sound of the performers to the audience in the sunken garden. The other shell faces the beach and forms a more intimate structure as a shelter for listening to the sound of the sea or for buskers to perform facing the promenade. The shell structures have been created without formwork with the concrete sprayed directly on to the reinforcement mesh. The majority of the concrete shell is only 100mm thick and relies on the double curved geometry to span the stage. The two shells appear like white land forms emerging from the grass of the greensward. This reflects the historical context of the concrete sound mirrors along the south coast at Dungeness, and the visually striking form of the local sand dunes. The project was won in competition in 2012 and it has been completed in time to be used during the summer of 2014.
Quotes Clare Potter, Major Projects Manager, Littlehampton Town Council
“Littlehampton Council’s ambition is to raise the town’s profile and reputation through the quality of its civic architecture. We are delighted to announce the completion of Flanagan Lawrence’s elegant and innovative pavilions, which now join other distinctive public architectural commissions enhancing the town’s seafront.”
Cllr Joyce Bowyer – Mayor of Littlehampton 2013/14 ‘The Town Council was seeking to provide a ‘bandstand’ and a shelter on the promenade at Littlehampton. A conventional bandstand/shelter didn’t seem to fit with the existing iconic architecture and so we decided to hold a competition for a really innovative design that would also have a practical purpose. The judging panel overwhelming agreed that the design for the acoustic shells submitted by Flanagan Lawrence fitted beautifully with the surrounding seascape and the other wonderful high-profile projects along our seafront. Now that we can also see the shells being used as a stage and a shelter we know we made the right choice!’
Cllr Dr James Walsh – Chair of the Steering Group for the Project “Stage by the Sea” is a simple, but sweeping evocation of a sea-shell set at the water’s edge, in which music , dance and speech can all project to an intimate audience.
The London Olympics had a temporary version of our “Stage by the Sea”, but we have the real and perfect thing…… another iconic structure on our famous seafront. Littlehampton is making waves with architectural innovation on the seafront; our Stage by the Sea is the latest to join the East Beach café and the Longest Bench.