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Urban Flux - Reviving the Coastal Community

Part 1 Project 2009
Michael Dillon
University of Kent, UK
Built up from its active trade in fishing in the early 19th century, the town of Ramsgate is enriched with a strong maritime history. In recent decades the port has been developed into docks for container shipping for the import of goods, taking advantage of its proximity to Industrial ports such as Dover and Harwich. The depreciation of the waterfront and its alienation from the community poses problems of urban planning and sustainability that my design project hopes to resolve.

The site, a concert hall cast into the cliff, is set on a main axis, commanding views over the old town to the east and west and out towards the North Sea. The spa endeavours to bring a new identity to the seafront by developing new communal spaces, with interactive facilities such as a shrimp hatchery and nature garden. The development of the now mostly disused dock area into sustainable aquaculture farms gives Ramsgate a new, productive, image, diversifying itself from its current reliance on the docks.

The design process was informed considerably by the study of Alvaro Siza, most notably his public bathing facility in Leca da Palmeira, Portugal. Here the building is formed from the landscape which is quite literally cast out of the rock. The site of the spa offered the chance to engage in a similar way, and my development studies looked at using the cliff to form the boundaries of pools and internal space, with the use of rammed chalk walls creating an intervention that was formed purely from its site. The Cor-ten cladding forms a net folded over the cliff base; the spa is formed of these two layers, natural and manmade. The result is a building that forms a bold, yet sensitive contrast to the vernacular and its habitat.

Michael Dillon

The seaside site for the project in Ramsgate is sandwiched between St Augustine’s Road and Westcliff Promenade, and occupies the site of the Edwardian Westcliff Pavilion and its sunken gardens to the north-west. The whole of this site, from the end of the gardens adjoining St Augustine’s Road, down to the ‘Tea Terrace’ of the Pavilion at the cliff edge, is the area under consideration. Vertically, there is no specific limit to the volume below promenade datum that may be considered; development above ‘ground’ level will have to take into consideration the sea-view rights of the surrounding properties.

The project calls for the design of a public baths building. From a social and architectural perspective this revival of interest in public baths is significant for two reasons; firstly, as a stand against the atomisation of social life such that each individual retreats into her individual private shell (represented by the obsessively private domestic bathroom spaces in our contemporary housing stock), and secondly, as a reaction to the immateriality of so much of our modern sensory life, where each person tends to lose purchase on reality and retires behind his computer or mobile phone screen. This problematic could be summarised as the rise of an atomised, immaterial world as against the notion of a shared community of individuals. It is the aspect of contemporary life which a wide range of authors have described (and lamented), most notably Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man and Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality.

This project invites students to generate an architectural response to questions of loss of community and the weakening of ‘the real.’ The brief calls for the design of a thermal baths complex - admittedly an ‘artificial’ enterprise as its East Kent location lacks natural thermal waters - whose default programme represents a hybrid of the Roman type of increasing temperatures of pool, in addition to the dry heat of a sauna and the wet heat of a Turkish baths.

Our nominee’s design engages wholeheartedly with the aims of the project, and is executed in a sophisticated manner. We commend it to the jury.

Dr Gerald Adler
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