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Cayton Bay Surf School

Part 1 Project 2009
Alex Hargreaves
Leeds Beckett University Leeds UK
The Surf School is based at Cayton Bay, on the North Yorkshire coast. Famous for surfing, it has also become well known for its high susceptibility to coastal erosion. The site is a large man-made plateau, fortified by a seawall which protects a Victorian pump house and the unstable hill behind it.

The cliffs either side of the plateau are made of boulders encased in clay formed during the last ice age. As the cliffs recede through coastal erosion, the boulders are released on to the beach. The boulders are then collected by surfers and masons and used as building materials. The site develops in a phased programme, as more material is released, collected and shaped.

“As the cliffs recede the building grows”.

Research into alternatives to petrochemical surfboards lead to the adaptation of a lattice form that could be used as a second modular structural element, and that could be manufactured at the on-site workshop by relatively unskilled labour.

Other “found” materials enrich the project; reusing driftwood, the spring on the site and the health benefits of bathing in heated seawater.

The visitor is rewarded as he or she moves further in to the site, enjoying tantalising glimpses of the sea through framed views. The final reward is achieved when the visitor reaches their room, revealing a panoramic view of the bay, while subtly directing them to one of the three surf spots in the bay.

The site workshop, spa, and Micro CHP allow the business to generate income independently. The site was intended to provide employment and re-training for the local workforce, similar projects could help the renaissance of Britain’s declining coastal towns.

The reclaimed or found processes on the site are inherently green, not because the sole function of the site is to be an exemplar of green building, but as evidence of how green can be quiet and unseen and should be incorporated at all levels throughout a building where possible. The structures, processes, materials, historical links and connection with local culture help to anchor the building to its location at multiple points.

Alex Hargreaves


Cayton Bay lies three miles south of Scarborough on the North-East coast of England. The bay is a popular area for surfing.

The project brief encouraged the observation and documentation of a specific environment which would inform a new coastal architecture influenced by time. Alex saw time as an agent that affects material, cultural and topographical circumstances. His interest lay in the exploration of how this might affect the human experience of visiting Cayton Bay. Recycling the landscape of deposited material exposed through coastal erosion informed a phased programme of development intrinsically connected to its context by time and geography.

The project presented an understanding of geological time and current coastal issues. A clear long term strategy and refining process for Cayton Bay emerged through recordings and models of the ordinary and extraordinary conditions along this particular area of coast. Alex expanded the brief to ensure the viability of the project through different seasons and discussed the possibility of the project as a prototype for other coastal destinations.

The project recognised the aspirations of the Government’s sea change programme, potentially reinvigorating England’s coastal resorts through investment in culture, heritage and improved quality of life for residents, whilst recognising the impact of climate change on patterns of behaviour.

Alex’s expansive research enabled him to substantiate his proposals for reusing many found objects and buildings from the coast. The sensitive but innovative architecture was completely inspired by Cayton Bay. The narrative related to the ‘growth’ of a building over time, the ‘quietness’ of the building process and the resultant spaces this created. The proposals were essentially linked to the local economy and became a reflection of surfing culture.

Tutor(s)

2009
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