It may seem hard to credit now, but there was a time when the shorefront was at the forefront of architectural innovation. The seaside gave us the insane Hindoo fantasia of Brighton Pavilion and Britain’s first Modernist building, the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill. Today, however, the grand Victorian piers decay and fall, and the civic pride that gave rise to them likewise crumbles. From Coney Island to Canvey Island, resort towns have become synonymous with urban decay. So is the seaside, so to speak, all washed up?

The Dutch artists’ collective Satellietgroep think not. In this book they have collected together various 21st-century approaches to coastal design, ranging from Ville Hara’s sculptural wooden bubble-tower at Helsinki Zoo to the artist Theo Jansen’s Strandbeesten, kinetic sculptures that somewhat resemble a portuguese man o’ war constructed from driftwood. The Low Countries perspective attaches particular importance to the issue of global warming, and several of the projects featured address this head-on: The Glue Society’s excellent Hot with the Chance of a Late Storm, a site-specific sculpture on Bondi Beach, depicts an ice-cream van that has melted in the increasing heat, its colours bleeding like raspberry ripple; while architect Anthony Lau’s proposed solution to rising sea levels is a series of cannibalised towers in the Thames Estuary, built from old oil platforms and container shipping, which look like something out of Kevin Costner’s post-apocalyptic vanity project Waterworld and are likely to be about as successful.

Many of the most inventive and daring ideas in the book are as-yet unrealised – such as Piers Gough and Will Alsop’s organic-looking Landmark Houses in the Cotswolds (which, the last time I checked, were entirely landlocked) and the various translucent  edifices planned for Dubai. This means that we are subjected to a great deal of exciting (albeit over-optimistic) CGI renderings, while too many of the completed projects fall into the category of trendy bars and hotel developments with little to recommend them architecturally. What’s more, unfortunately, the accompanying text is at once breathless, ornate and vapid – artist Florentijn Hofman’s 26m-high rubber duck, for example, surely deserves more informative copy than “it may look like the favourite toy of Sesame Street’s Ernie, but it’s too big to fit into anyone’s bath – and impossible to ignore”. Like an article from a free newspaper, it seems to have been written by someone with nothing to say but a space allocated to say it in. Steer clear of the words and you will find there are a number of thought-provoking and endearingly silly projects on show; but taken as a whole, sadly, this book is as uneven as the pebbles on Brighton beach.

First published in World of Interiors issue 314. Reproduced with permission.

Beachlife: Interior Design and Architecture at the Seaside

ed. Clare Lowther & Sarah Schulz  (Frame)

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