The last decade has seen Margate’s cultural landscape flourish with the dual success of Turner Contemporary and a resurgent Dreamland to book-end the seafront panorama. Successful regeneration by Thanet Council has also brought significant and tangible changes to the Old Town. One of the most significant outcomes delivered by the Council without fanfare or drama however, has been the Margate Flood & Coastal Protection Scheme – also known more fondly as Margate Steps. A scheme funded by the Environment Agency to the tune of £6million pounds and brought in on time and under budget …and somewhat under the radar. This example of coastal civil engineering encompassed not only the Steps, but the Harbour Arm and Sea Wall along Marine Drive. This elegant and functional concrete stepped revetment structure has also brought a much needed and highly activated public realm and pedestrian space to the Town.
Throughout its history, a major catalyst for change and development in Margate had been the destructive force of storms and storm surges. These pages are taken from the Contextual Research Document, which I delivered in collaboration with the project team.
I was commissioned as project artist on the scheme by Thanet District Council & the Environment Agency in December 2010. My role was to uncover and present interpretive & contextual information & develop concepts with which to influence the design process & inform the structure & detailing of this major sea defence works. The work has now been completed and the project officially opened in May 2013.
Being part of an integrated design team from an early point was critical in enabling the contextual work, via a contribution to the detailed DESIGN & ACCESS STATEMENT , to influence the physical form of the structure, within its constraints as a sea defence work.
The public realm and amenity space which the project afforded Margate’s sea front has been a tremendous addition to an enlivened and highly activated sea front promenade which has Turner Contemporary and the Harbour Arm at one end & Margate Station & Dreamland at the other.
I met up with Laura Knight and Louise Francis of FrancisKnight Public Art Consultants along with Neil Mattinson and Jennifer Corlett of LDA Design. Neil & Jennifer hadn’t visited Margate or the Margate Steps before so this was a good opportunity to see a successful coastal engineering project , which also happens to provide a considerable and much need public realm and meeting place for residents and visitors alike. The project also encompasses much of Margate’s legacy and heritage as a seaside town which has seen storms and weather act as the primary catalyst for changes and regeneration.
My role as project artist within the integrated design team on the Margate Coastal Flood & Protection Project – aka Margate Steps – was to influence and challenge the design process via contextual and site responsive research and collaborative practice. The scope for influencing the process within the Chatham Placemaking Project is a similar one – albeit a much shorter consultancy – and is as much about a collaborative and discussive one.
This was a useful and engaging meeting, where we had an open discussion about the scope for the Chatham project, whilst also experiencing and reviewing a recent regeneration project at first hand.
A short film has just been posted by Civic Voice about the recent Civic Voice Design Awards 2015. As previously posted – Margate Steps – aka Margate Flood and Coastal Protection Scheme, won the award for Public Realm.
The project was nominated by the Margate Civic Society. In 2014, the project had been awarded a Civic Award by the local group and it was on the back of this that the nomination for the Civic Voice Award was made. I attended the event with Geoff Orton of the Margate Civic Society.
This project was delivered by a large and diverse integrated design team. I think part of it’s success as a project is certainly down to the collaborative nature of the scheme and that this process was something which contributed from the outset of the works, influencing and challenging the design process at each stage.
Civic Voice shortlists 12 schemes for new design awards !
The Margate Flood & Coastal Protection Project aka ‘Margate Steps’, has been shortlisted for this new design award.
“Civic Voice – the national charity for the civic movement – has today announced its national shortlist for the best designed new development nominated by communities in the country”.
Griff Rhys Jones, Civic Voice President said:
“What I really like about the Civic Voice Design Awards is that they are national awards which have been nominated by local community organisations like civic societies, residents groups, town and parish councils and other community based voluntary organisations, rather than the industry professionals. They show that people are willing to welcome the new developments we need when they have been properly consulted and involved and where the quality of design has been of the highest standard. I look forward to meeting the award winners”
The images clearly show the scale and impact that the Coastal Protection Project has had on the local area. The additional public realm and and amenity space that the works have provided is shaping the way that the seafront engages with the Old Town and Harbour. Even at high tide, the Old Town is accessible from the beach, which had previously not been possible. The wonderful coastal setting which has become the backdrop for the regeneration of the Harbour Arm, Custom House, Turner Contemporary, Old Town, Margate Steps and now finally Dreamland coming on stream has really made Margate magnificent once again.
I recently saw some new aerial images of Margate Steps at low tide taken by the project contractors Breheny –
Breheny have very kindly allowed me to publish them on my blog. Notwithstanding its success as an example of coastal engineering within an urban setting, these images of the project really show to good effect the scale and impact of the project. As a public realm & additional amenity space which the step revetment provided for the town, the project was also successful as demonstrated by the awards it has won.
I was commissioned as the project Artist by MACH – Margate Art & Cultural Heritage, Thanet District Council & the Environment Agency. My role was to supply an interpretive & contextual backdrop developed with which to influence the design process & inform the structure, detailing & interpretation of this major sea defence works. The total budget for the project was £6m.
On Thursday 8th May 2014, at an event at the Walpole Bay Hotel in Cliftonville, the Margate Flood and Coast Protection Scheme, aka ‘Margate Steps’ was awarded a Town Pride Award 2014 by the Margate Civic Society.
This follows the 2013 award given to the project at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) South East England Engineering Excellence Awards 2013. This award was particularly welcomed as it recognised the benefit of the project in enhancing the experience of its host community. The project team behind the scheme received the award from ICE Senior Vice President, Geoff French, at a ceremony which was held at Leeds Castle on Friday 7 June. The awards recognise the best civil engineering projects across South East England with the judges looking for projects that deliver a real benefit to society through the knowledge, skills and professional expertise of civil engineers.
The revetment steps are now almost a year old and appear to have been really taken to heart by both the community & visitors alike. As well as fulfilling a vital role as protection from the risk of flooding, the defences were designed as a stepped revetment which accommodates integrated seating and lighting to provide an incredible amenity and public realm from which to enjoy Margate’s famous coastal views and sunsets.
On 9th May 2014, the Margate Flood & Coast Protection Scheme, aka the Margate Steps will have been officially opened for a year. It is rewarding to see that:
1. The sea defence works are working !…the storms over winter clearly tested the engineering.
2. That the wonderful amenity space we envisaged (over and above its primary function as a sea defence works) would have become such an addition to the Margate sea front environment. I will be posting images and text from the project’s history over the coming weeks.
It was an amazing project to be involved with. I promised myself I would swim off the steps at high tide to celebrate the opening. I missed my opportunity, so am trying again ! Look out for the guy in a wet suit trying hard not to look cold !
A video of Margate Steps can be seen here on its official opening day on 9th May 2013.
I think we can safely say that Margate Steps has benefitted the community.
The blue text outlined below formed a much larger visual narrative prepared to support & inform the designs for the sea defence works. It is made up of historic, anecdotal and real time events which occurred along the length of the new sea defences.