It is hoped the ambitious project, which won an international design competition organised by the Landscape Institute in 2009 and was designed by White arkitekter in partnership with UK-based architects Sprunt and structural engineers Price & Myers, will revitalise the iconic pier’s fortunes following the fire that devastated the structure in 2005. Originally constructed in the Victorian era, the Grade II listed structure, which has its own train line and is 2,158m (1.34 miles) long, has survived fires, boat crashes, two world wars and economic decline, as well as undergoing a series of design alterations and amendments.
Earlier this month a stretch of decking and several pilings were damaged after a barge moored to the side of the pier was driven underneath it in high winds and heavy swell. Most British piers are populated by amusement arcades and rides, but Scandinavian architecture practice White aim to reinstate Southend’s most famous landmark as a public space, making it an extension of the urban fabric of the town over the water by creating a cultural centre and square at the pier head.
The final design is firmly rooted in the original competition-winning scheme Sculpted by Wind and Wave and represents a radical deviation from the traditional Victorian architecture of the town. Its sweeping geometric form and harmonising palette of materials celebrate the topography of the windswept site and integrate it into the scenic landscape. The scheme comprises a new 364 sq m cultural centre built on the surviving cast iron columns of the pier head. It will accommodate: a multi-purpose space, seating approx 185 people; an individual 40 sq m artist studio; a flexible cafe/dining area; ancillary accommodation (WCs, store and kitchen).
A ramped timber walkway made of the same FSC-certified tropical wood as the existing decking ameliorates the change in height at the building entrance, which is raised 1.5m from the deck. A 121 sq m south-facing terrace opposite the entrance is arranged in a series of levels to provide a spectator platform amphitheatre with seating for up to 100 people. Measuring 3m at its highest point it fulfills the functions of the original open air theatre and public square as well as acting as a windbreak and providing superb views from the pier head.
The cultural centre is characterised by its dynamic wave-shaped roof. It is constructed of triangular panels which anchor to the long wall of the building, giving the walls and roof one unified expression and opening up the Northern entrance façade with floor-to-ceiling glazing that gives a clear view through the entire building.