The Longest Bench

The longest bench in Britain was opened to the the public in Littlehampton, West Sussex on the 30th July 2010. The bench seats over 300 people along Littlehampton’s promenade, overlooking the town’s award-winning Blue Flag beach.

This project began as an idea to create a very long bench down the spine of the promenade at Littlehampton, potentially the longest bench in the UK or perhaps eventually the world. The structure sinuously travels along the promenade, meandering around lampposts, bending behind bins, and ducking down into the ground to allow access between the beach and the Green.

Like a seaside boardwalk the Longest Bench rests gently on its habitat and adapts to its surroundings while like a charm bracelet it connects and defines the promenade as a whole, underlining it as a collection of special places that can be added to throughout its lifetime.

Littlehampton, West Sussex is a town on the South Coast at the mouth of the River Arun. The promenade runs from the harbour eastwards towards Worthing and beyond. The site follows a redbrick wall which accompanies the promenade for over half a kilometre, terminating at the East Beach Cafe.

The Longest Bench is made from thousands of hardwood bars reclaimed from sources including old seaside groynes (including Littlehampton’s!) and rescued from landfill. This simple component is arrayed to accommodate the complex shapes called for by the form of the wall and the activities which take place along it. The variety of reclaimed timbers are interspersed with splashes of bright colour wherever the bench wriggles, bends or dips.

To inspire and develop the Longest Bench, we worked with Connaught Junior School. The children showed us how they use the promenade, what they think of it, and what it means to them, giving us insights into the site we would never otherwise have. Two important incidents along the length of the site are the two shelters. The children told us they felt these were dirty and unsafe. They were dividing rather than connecting the green and the beach.

The old shelters have been replaced with new Shelter Charms, each made of a strip which forms a simple opening by looping around once. The bronze-finished twisted monocoque forms reach out to both sides, making no front or back. The bench stretches as it approaches a loop and then inside goes a bit haywire, bouncing of the walls and ceiling creating seats and openings. The loop contains the haywire stretch of bench and frames the views each way. These two shelters, along with the East Beach Cafe, form the initial charms. The Longest Bench unfolds a series of individual playful spaces and like a charm bracelet, we begin with a couple of charms and more can be added as birthday presents later.

The Longest Bench was granted CABE’s “Sea Change” funding, a capital grants programme for cultural and creative regeneration in seaside resorts. Through CABE’s Sea Change programme and a private donation from Gordon Roddick as a tribute to his late wife Anita (founder of the Body Shop which is based in the town), Littlehampton now has a very very long bench, the longest in Britain! The bench is also engraved with hundreds of personal messages from supporters which has helped it stretch a little bit further!

If you are interested in supporting the bench and helping Littlehampton make it into the record books in return for your name or message engraved onto the bench, contact longest.bench@arun.gov.uk

Description from the architects

 

 

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.

A charm bracelet consists of a simple chain which is personalised with trinkets given as presents by friends or family. Each charm has its own story of travels or events or friendships.

Each bracelet is a unique collection and may be adorned with a diverse and eccentric set of charms that are accumulated, swapped, and given as presents throughout their lifetime.

A boardwalk is a path made up of timber boards tied together, laid to give access to sensitive environments.
They are most often found meandering across sandy beaches or wetlands.

The simplest boardwalks, made of boards loosely tied together, are constructed around the existing environment: a run of boards resting gently on the sand, connecting the places along its way.

Apollonius’ Theorem is a geometric method to construct a parabola from straight lines. Through a simple series of straight lines, sinuous flowing curves can be constructed.

The theorem may be described as follows:

*Assume a parabola with two points A and B and their tangents AS and BS are given.

*Pick a number, n and divide AS and BS into n equal intervals.

*Label division points on AS with numbers 1, 2, 3, … counting from S, and mark those on BS counting from B.

*Connect the points with the same labels. From Apollonius’ theorem, the lines will envelope the parabola.

By using similar thinking, we developed the geometry of the Longest Bench by imagining it as one bar that has made a journey along the promenade. Throughout it’s journey, the bar has rushed along the straight parts, swerved around lampposts and bins, jumped over the wall here and there, and bounced about wildly inside a looping shelter.

Each of the thousands of bars reveal one position along the bar’s movement, revealing the traces of this dynamic and cheerful journey.

Similarly, calligraphy creates a visible trace of movement that is familiar. The way the pen angle defines the broader and narrower strokes, and the way the speed of the stroke manifests in the smoothness of the line, are comparable to the way the run of bars form a kind of ribbon surface that tracks the length of the bench.

Our initial impressions and research revealed the distinctive character of Littlehampton Seafront. Unusually, the promenade is level with the beach. Without the often seen barriers of sharp level changes and bulky handrails, the connection with the sea is strong.

Also, this promenade, unlike many, is not backed by a busy seafront road and rows of facades but stretches between the beach and a green. Promenades are normally found either by the water or through a park, Littlehampton promenade is both.

Description from the architects

Media

11 photos and 5 drawings

Building Activity

  • Marília Andrade
    Marília Andrade updated
    about 2 years ago via Mobile
  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov updated 94 media, updated and added a digital reference
    about 3 years ago via OpenBuildings.com