architects
Kranzgasse 18/5B
AT-1150 Vienna

Karl-Marx-Platz 15
DE-12043 Berlin
email office@moh-architects.com

summary

The site conjures the common architectural dilemma of how to amalgamate the antagonizing spatial qualities of an iconic figure with those of unobstructed open space.

On the one hand, Birnbeck Island represents a pivotal point within the distinctive identity and picturesque promenade along North Somerset seafront. As such, it seems perfectly fitting for a figural landmark and it often has been argued that such an iconic development would have an important regeneration effect both locally as well as regionally. On the other hand, however, any large aggregation of built space would inevitably erode the pier’s principal spatial qualities: blocking yet unobstructed vistas towards mainland and sea, obstructing lively open plazas for promenading, leisure and public gathering etc. Moreover, it would pose a disproportionate counterweight to both the existing historic fabric as well as the delicate natural backdrop.

The project's main ambition is to overcome the aforementioned dichotomy and suggest a spatial composition where the open space is modulated such that it becomes the icon itself, rather than the built space in a traditional figure-ground composition. In order to achieve this we suggest a model that acknowledges the necessity for an icon in order to foster the attractiveness of the region and, yet, responds to the existing qualities of the site, the historic fabric, and the subsequent size constraints (...).

information

Project: Birnbeck Island
Location: Weston-Super-Mare, United Kingdom
Type: Polifunctional
Year: 2008
Team: Mehlan, Opperer, Hugo
Client: Urban Splash Ltd
Status: intl. competition / 2nd prize
Project Partners: -

project text

The site conjures the common architectural dilemma of how to achieve simultaneity of two typically exclusive spatial qualities: an iconic figure and open space. On the one hand, Birnbeck Island represents a pivotal point within the distinctive identity and picturesque promenade along North Somerset seafront. As such, it seems perfectly fitting for a figural landmark and it may well be argued that such an iconic development would have an important regeneration effect both locally as well as regionally.

On the other hand, however, any large aggregation of built space would inevitably erode the pier’s principal spatial qualities: blocking yet unobstructed vistas towards mainland and sea, obstructing lively open plazas for promenading, leisure and public gathering and so on and so forth. Moreover, any ‘icon’ in the traditional sense of a monumental building would pose a disproportionate counterweight to both the existing historic fabric as well as the delicate natural backdrop.

Our main ambition is to overcome the aforementioned dichotomy and suggest a model that acknowledges the necessity for an icon in order to foster the attractiveness of the region and, yet, responds to the existing spatial qualities, the historic fabric and the subsequent size constraints. In order to achieve this, we propose a spatial formation where the open space is modulated in such a way that it becomes the icon itself, rather than the built space in a traditional figure-ground composition.

Spatial concept

As with most pier structures, the current layout of Birnbeck island suggests an almost mono-directional flow of visitors: While entering the site from the city, or likewise approaching from the far end of the pier, all access is bundled in between the existing buildings and the platform. Instead of sticking with this rather monotonous routing pattern the project’s program distribution is generated from a circulation diagram that instead allows for multiple ways to experience the extraordinary site: The flaneur is presented with open vistas towards the sea, framed passages in between historic fabric and proposed project, tranquil plazas and raised platforms allowing for unobscured views over the entire island.

The routing diagram deliberately does not differentiate between inside and outside spaces per se, thus allowing for uninterrupted transitions between all appending spaces of the proposal in a continuous and fluid manner, be it inside or outside. Yet, should any part of the proposed program need to be temporarily cut off from the cohesive network (e.g. for private or semi-private uses), all access remains fully functional as the chosen pattern allows for dynamical re-routing.

Correspondingly, the program is distributed alongside these routes as one continuous surface, allowing for circulation over the entire roofed area - where it becomes a gently sloped topography - as well as through the appending interior programs where it forms façades and/or apertures. While its formally intricate articulation generates enough attraction to function as an ‘icon’ - and thus promotes a lively urban environment - the structure maintains a low profile across the entire section. It never antagonizes the existing buildings or overpowers the delicate natural backdrop.