Dover's Esplanade has been given a radical overhaul by Tonkin Liu. The project has been conceived as three artworks that have grown out of their social and environmental context and the way they are constructed. The new Esplanade officially opened in November 2010.
Lifting Wave, Resting Wave, Lighting Wave was the winning scheme in a design competition organised by the Landscape Institute on behalf of Dover Harbour Board, Dover District Council, Kent County Council, SEEDA and English Heritage. The project has been part funded by Sea Change, a DCMS programme managed by CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) to drive cultural creative regeneration in England’s seaside resorts.
The £2 million project creates a new 3,500 sq m promenade that connects the Eastern and Western docks. To the west of the Esplanade is a new Sea Sports Centre, to the east, a crossing linked to a tunnel that connects the seafront to the central town square. The Esplanade is backed by Waterloo Mansions, a listed 5-storey regency terrace dating from 1834. Being the first encounter with the town for many ferry and cruise passengers, the existing Esplanade was recognised as an important amenity for Dover residents but lacked a sense of place and failed to make an attraction of the seafront.
Lifting Wave, Resting Wave and Lighting Wave Tonkin Liu search for solutions that are specific to place, people and time. Through a unique design methodology called ‘asking, looking, playing, making’ they investigate the character and potential of place and make propositions that particular to that place and the people that will use it. The Dover Esplanade harnesses the architectural language of Dover’s identity; the gentle nature of waves on the sheltered beach, the rhythmical sweep of the Georgian Seafront Terrace and the undulating topography of the White Cliffs of Dover. The creation of three new waves brings a new interactive dynamism to esplanade.
The Lifting Wave is a repeated formation of sculptural ramps and staircases made of pre-cast white concrete that rise and fall to connect the Esplanade to the lower shingle beach. The Lifting Wave combines ramps formed of miniature steps that create a light-catching textured surface, with layered steps, spun like a pack of cards, The gentle ramps both allow access for all and the sinuous line brings dynamic forms to the beach. The experience of going to and from enriched by shingle gardens of local plant species between the undulating ramp and the new seawall coping. Rainwater is channeled along the slatted surface into a gully at the side of the ramp.
The Resting Wave is a sculptural retaining wall that runs the length of the Esplanade, providing bay spaces with seating sheltered from the south-westerly wind and orientated towards the sun. The wall is constructed by a shifting system of precast white concrete blocks formed in stacked timber moulds, which result in creating a textured surface similar to that of the sedimentary strata layers of Dover’s White Cliffs. The surface is designed to create shadows, preventing the bright surface from causing glare and to prevent fly posting and discourage tagging. Recessed bays within the wall incorporate benches made of weathered oak, which has been shot-blasted and bleached to bring their materiality close to that of ocean driftwood. The Resting Wave’s form tilts back and forth in a system of convex and concave forms, creating a rippled surface that catches the light. Undulating raised lawns follow the curving line of the wall providing a setting for picnics, with trees bringing seasonal colour and shelter from the sun.
The Lighting Wave is a sculptural line of white columns with artwork that complements the sweeping form of the sea wall and terrace, bringing improved amenity lighting and programmed lighting sequences to the Esplanade. Along the length of the Esplanade the columns rise and fall like the froth on the bubbling crest of a wave, designed to catch the light of the day as well as being a lighting feature at night. The Lighting Wave combines large flood lights ‘for general illumination to the Lifting Wave, medium spot lights to pick up the undulating line of the Resting Wave and mini spot lights to illuminate the froth of the Lighting Wave. All are programmed to an intelligent lighting system that marks the passing of time with a lighting sequence on the hour and a simplified sequence on the quarter hour. The interactive low-energy LED lights have been specifically programmed to create a dynamic wave movement, bringing a sense of delight to the seafront.
The three waves each make contextual reference to place, responding to the environmental conditions of the seafront location; each fulfill social tasks in the form of physical provision and through psychological association; each explore themes at the scale of the city and at the fine scale of construction detail. By looking for inspiration in the context of Dover as well as the broader context of the sea, and by asking people and the place ‘what it wanted to be’ Tonkin Liu have added something particular to the public realm.