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Beckton Beach

Part 2 Project 2001
James Spiteri
Richard Lunt
Oxford Brookes University UK
Our aim is to create an alternative paradigm for the way we live, a clean slate on which users are able to experiment with new cultural experiences, and conceive their own lifestyle. A building is a small piece in this jigsaw. The aspects of architecture that most influenced our design are the ambiguity and appropriation of urban spaces, and the ways that built spaces can help to explain the program, and dissolve the ambiguity between inside and outside.

The site for the London Beach project was chosen in an area on the Thames called Beckton. The site is an old gasworks, and is about one kilometre square. It lies next to an area of regenerated housing and a campus of the University of East London. The Royal Albert Dock lies to the west, along with City Airport. The road links to the site are good, although they also cut the site off a bit from the local community. There is now a proposed road through the site that would link with the area of Thamesmead south of the river. To the east lies a sewage works that is still in use.

In London, the cross-section of society varies greatly from the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' to the 'have whatever they bloody likes’. It is a similar story to many cities. Lifestyle means a lot to most, if not all, of these people. With so many magazines and TV shows dedicated to the topic, it is impossible to avoid contact with trends and lifestyles. Lifestyle advertising plays a large role in the continual development of the city. The East End of London has long been associated with the 'have-nots'. The area was once packed with industry and cheap homes, but is now undergoing regeneration. The London Beach process is part of this process.

The underlying idea for our scheme was taken from a reading of the domestic essentials of the home. We created an order by placing these areas onto the site, breaking it into zones that correspond to those found in our dwellings. These areas moved back in strips from the riverside: the bathroom (cleansing); then sleeping (regeneration); living (existence); eating (sustenance); and services (operations). It leads to a juxtaposition of domestic fundamental elements in an interesting and unorthodox manner. We have thus altered the socially accepted ways in which the typical areas of any urban beach or park would work.

We also created a marketable product for the site. This takes the form of Beckton Source, bottled water that is taken from the neighbouring sewage works. The image not about natural springs in dreamy mountain ranges, but about being an urban product, London’s very own water. This product is to be advertised using real people doing real things on the Beckton beach site. It would make people more intrigued to find out what was going on there, and how their own lifestyle might become part of it.

James Spiteri
Richard Lunt

The brief set for the project was to investigate the way that a city might be transformed by a new interpretation of leisure and consumption focused on the urban beach. Our basic proposition was that London not only desperately needs a beach, but also beach culture. We also wanted this project to help to redress the chronic imbalance between West London and East London, and the terrible social divide that this condition creates.

These students produced an astonishingly deep and complex strategy for the Beckton Beach project. Their view of the beach as being essentially a domestic space was an inspired and intelligent one, and was derived from a close reading of the activities that take place on any beach (eating, sleeping, playing, cleansing, etc.), as well as from the willing state of near-undress that people indulge in such pleasures. For their design, strips of domestic usage were overlaid onto the Beckton site, and were then subtly turned into architectural elements to make the scheme work.

What they ended up with is a diverse range of stunning structures and incidental features scattered across the site. A shimmering hotel with pod rooms lies in the centre, and is counter-posed with a curvaceous water-bottling plant set on top of an exiting sewage works. Other zones of the site are given over to washing, reading or work, and what we are shown are lamps situated in trees and electric plug sockets set in rocks, thereby updating the famous proposition of David Greene of Archigram.

And then the students produced a series of striking advertisements for Beckton Source, a new type of trendy bottled water that does not pride itself on having dripped through pure mountains for hundreds of years. No, it is unashamedly recycled water, green water, and a liquid that constitutes the lifeblood of London as well as contributing to the creation of urban identity through marketing. It is hard to think of a more challenging or culturally richer design project than this one. Who would not want to go to Beckton Beach?

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