Acoustic Shells – The sound of the seafront
These Acoustic Shells were designed by London studio Flanagan Lawrence to facilitate community events and provide residents of the West Sussex town with a scenic resting spot on the edge of a sunken garden. Flanagan Lawrence developed the design after winning an architectural competition organised by Littlehampton Town Council in 2012. It called for a “Stage by the Sea” that would “provide a high quality landmark structure forming the focal point of Littlehampton’s Greensward”.
“The Acoustic Shells were a community led project, and extra care was taken to ensure its accessibility and that all of the community could benefit from the new facilities. These measures include: simple level access to both stage and shelter from both the beach side promenade and the coach drop off; enhanced acoustics for the bandstand; 100% auditoria access for wheel chairs via ramped access from the coach and car park; and that the new facility is a clear visual landmark on the promenade, a meeting point, and social hub.” – RIBA
The Acoustic Shells act as a stage and shelter for the local community in Littlehampton. Prompted by the Council’s desire to reinvigorate the seaside town with its gentility of the early 20thcentury, the shells materially enhance the public open space of the adjacent greensward. The functions of shelter and bandstand were suggested by the local community during consultation on the seafront strategy and satisfy an essential social need that is not provided elsewhere in the area.
The project budget prohibited the form of a more traditional bandstand and subsequently we chose to unify the architectural components of the brief; floor, walls, structure, roof, into a single entity that would reduce materials, complexity and cost. Concrete was selected as it is dense enough to meet an acoustic brief and robust enough to be a match for the environmental conditions.
The £100,000 budget for the Acoustic Shells prohibited the form of a more traditional bandstand: a large elevated platform, open sides, and an acoustically reflective soffit and roof. This project chose to unify the architectural components of the brief—floor, walls, structure, roof— into a single entity that would reduce materials, complexity, and cost. A traditional timber structure was ruled out due to the harsh marine environment and the threat of anti-social behavior such as graffiti and arson. It was decided that a robust material was required that could withstand all possible eventualities. Concrete was chosen as a material that could be dense enough to meet an acoustic brief and be robust enough to be a match for the environmental conditions.
An all-concrete structure had its own problems and would have to use innovative construction techniques to limit the wastage inherent in shuttering and forming processes. Research was undertaken in the development of thin shell structures. These can be self-supporting and have structure integrated into the form of the shell. The most efficient technique that would suit was that of sprayed concrete. With care, this process can produce the complexity required by the Acoustic Shells project, and be carried out in a short time frame, thus reducing the site costs further.
- “We established exactly how much cubic concrete we could afford, and then reconciled this volume with the acoustic and spatial objectives of the brief. After a lengthy period of digital optimisation, we arrived at a form that worked and met all of the practical concerns of a shelter and a bandstand. The shell structures were thus created without formwork, with the concrete instead sprayed directly on to a reinforcement mesh. The majority of the concrete shell is only 100mm thick and relies on the double curved geometry to span the stage.” – Flanagan Lawrence
- “The concept for the shells is derived from the notion of a traditional bandstand; following the industrial Revolution and worsening conditions in urban areas, bandstands were conceived as a response by local authorities to an increased need for green open spaces where the general public could relax…The Acoustic Shells are a response to this context, bringing back an old ideal, an architecture that can represent ‘sound’, and the people that made it.” – Flanagan Lawrence
- “‘Stage by the Sea’ is a simple but sweeping evocation of a seashell set at the water’s edge, in which music, dance and speech can all project to an intimate audience. The London Olympics had a temporary version of our ‘Stage by the Sea’, but we have the real and perfect thing…another iconic structure on our famous seafront.” – Councillor Dr James Walsh, Chair of the Steering Group for the project, said
The project was built in two distinct stages: the construction of the shells by the Shotcrete Group, the specialist sprayed concrete contractor, followed by the integration into the landscaping, which was by Landbuild.
Since the project’s completion in April 2014, the Acoustic Shells have gone on to become a celebrated local landmark for the Littlehampton community. Available for event hire through the local town council, the stage and shelter are also used on a daily basis for play and rest by passers-by.
Flanagan Lawrence Architects:
Sited in a sunken garden beside the beach in Littlehampton, West Sussex, UK, these ‘Acoustic Shells’ act as a stage and shelter for the local community. Prompted by a desire to reinvigorate Littlehampton with its gentility of the early 20th century, the shells materially enhance the public open space of the adjacent greensward and satisfy an essential social need that is not provided elsewhere in the area.
The concept for the shells is derived from the notion of a traditional bandstand; following the industrial Revolution and worsening conditions in urban areas, bandstands were conceived as a response by local authorities to an increased need for green open spaces where the general public could relax. Following the first bandstand in Britain in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in South Kensington in 1861, bandstands became hugely popular, and were subsequently installed in parks across the country. Competing with new medias in the 20thC; cinema and television, bandstands lost their appeal, and fell into disuse.
However, the new world of social media has further democratised the production and distribution of music. No longer the preserve of elite musicians, popular music is now being made by anyone, and played anywhere, whether this is online, or in public. The Acoustic Shells are a response to this context, bringing back an old ideal, an architecture that can represent ‘sound’, and the people that made it.
One shell faces the town and forms the principal bandstand. The acoustic design of the interior creates a reflective surface to project the sound of the performers to the audience in the sunken garden. The other shell faces the beach and forms a more intimate structure as a shelter for listening to the sound of the sea or for buskers to perform facing the promenade.
The shell structures have been created without formwork with the concrete sprayed directly on to the reinforcement mesh. The majority of the concrete shell is only 100mm thick and relies on the double curved geometry to span the stage.
The two shells appear like white land forms emerging from the grass of the greensward. This reflects the historical context of the concrete sound mirrors along the south coast at Dungeness, and the visually striking form of the local sand dunes.
Project name: Acoustic Shells
Location: Banjo Rd, Littlehampton, West Sussex BN17 5LG, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 50.802648, -0.538085
Type: Pavilion, Public Facilities
Floor area: 30 sqm
Completion Year: April 2014
Client / Owner / Developer: Littlehampton Town Council
Architects: Flanagan Lawrence Architects – 66 Porchester Road, London W2 6ET, United Kingdom
Structural Engineer: Expedition Engineering
Text Description: © Courtesy of Flanagan Lawrence Architects, Shotcrete, WAN Awards, RIBA
Images: © Flanagan Lawrence Architects, Andy Lee