Article from Building Design – the Architects website
by Mike Oades 5 October 2007
What looks like a stripey, tactile pear nestles gently in the sand dunes at Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire. Nearby, an ornate hut-sized mirror offers reflections of the sea. On the promenade is a giant glass of gin and tonic. What’s going on?
This was the lively scene at the Bathing Beauties Festival, an annual event that this year showcased a series of permanent new beach huts designed by artists, architects and designers. These are the pick of 240 entries to a competition, organised earlier this year by artist Michael Trainor, to challenge the traditional form of the popular seaside structure.
They certainly did that. Three are on show, with two more planned for next year’s event. Hutspotters needed to look hard to find them: they are scattered around various coastal locations near Mablethorpe, a small town between Cleethorpes and Skegness.
One of the most intriguing pieces was Eyes Wide sHut — they all had rather special names — by Feix & Merlin, which snuggles up against a row of rather oriental-looking, asbestos-roofed beach huts in the Trusthorpe area of Mablethorpe. This hut addressed and literally mirrored both the coast and the rural hinterland within a large ornate black picture frame. The frame slides to one side revealing a sylvan-scened interior and gold chandelier. Meanwhile, Trainor’s own hut, Come Up and See Me — a giant-sized gin and tonic glass — brings a touch of class to the promenade adjacent to the fun fair and cafés.
Proceedings could be observed from a mock-up of Mablethorpe Camera Obscura, the beach hut designed by Willett & Patteson which will be built permanently next year. Jabba, a beautifully made and tactile, pear-shaped vessel by I-am Associates, occupies arguably the most daring location — alone among the dunes north of the town.
As well as the new beach huts, there were performances and exhibitions in and around the promenade, notably Ladies of the Waves — synchronised swimming on land — and the Elbow Orchestra.
This all went down very well with the public during the festival weekend as crowds of holidaymakers, locals and hut tourists mingled on the prom on what would have been an otherwise quiet Saturday at the end of September. In a rare display of public attention to architecture, people were eager to know more about the concepts behind the designs.
Sadly, festivalgoers were deprived of A Hut for Gazing and Canoodling by We Made That, which was withdrawn in spite of council support due to local hysteria about the proposal. Its mildly risqué nature was obviously too much for the neighbouring village of Chapel St Leonards.
One other hut failed to make it on time, but Trainor should be applauded for a competition that actually resulted in the winning schemes being built without compromise to the original designs.
Bathing Beauties is part of a broader urban regeneration strategy for the Lincolnshire coast, with more beach huts planned for the coming year. But while art and architecture have an important role to play in this, any regeneration must rely on a larger, cohesive strategy to improve the infrastructure and help coastal towns to become less reliant on a short, seasonal influx of income and achieve more sustained growth.
The drive along the coast near Mablethorpe shows little evidence of this. But once you are there, you are reminded of the biggest attraction to the area of all, 30 miles of beautiful sandy beaches and dunes from Gibraltar Point to Cleethorpes. The added bonus now is the ability to view it all from a splendid new beach hut — all the new creations are available for hire.