Littlehampton is one of the turnaround towns of the coast – albeit one that
hadn’t yet turned. Despite the presence of local firm The Body Shop, it had
become a backwater. So there was much regeneration excitement about Thomas
Heatherwick’s East Beach Café, driven by the family of architect Peter
Murray and built in 2007, and in summer 2010, the café was joined by the
longest bench in Britain, designed by Je Ahn and Maria Smith at Studio Weave.
The idea is simple: a structure that follows the long Littlehampton promenade, responding to the street furniture by going around lamps and bins, looping the loop in two wind shelters, and creating a line of tropical hardwood slats, engraved with messages from supporters. The Longest Bench seats 300 people and is made from thousands of hardwood bars reclaimed from sources including old seaside groynes, which provides interspersed splashes of bright colour wherever the bench wriggles, bends or dips.
We imagined the Longest Bench as a charm bracelet gifted to the town as a delicate piece of jewellery that can accommodate new and varied additions. The form of the bracelet’s chain is informed by the simple seaside boardwalk together with some maths that envisages movement. Studio Weave
One of the issues facing the many landscape designers of seaside towns is the lack of continuity: the town doesn’t meet the beach; a road intervenes, the seafront is divorced from the shopping streets behind. So this piece brings back a sense of contiguity, as well as a sense of occasion. Will it revive Littlehampton? Questions such as these are decreasing, which frees up projects such as Longest Bench to be themselves.
Text: Oliver Bennett