It’s enough to make many of us do a double take — a ‘roo or two jutting out of a derelict wooden box-shaped building just along the seafront at Weston-super-Mare.
The mystery box, known locally as ‘Beachgoer’, is stuck on the top of one of the pier’s 120-foot towers. The curious structure is peeping out from behind wooden beams and a blunt pedestal of dirt.
The British seaside town’s Old Harbour tower is one of the oldest surviving Victorian structures on the English coast, built in 1899.
Plans for development of the site are currently undergoing consultation. The Box is an urban delight — but a “vibrant attraction” that’s “seen better days”, according to Jack Calder, Weston-super-Mare’s £1 million ($1.3 million) in 2017 regeneration lead.
It was selected as the winning design by Brighton-based ‘£1 Million Design on Design’ team, with Louise Abreu at Architectural Design Consultancy, on behalf of ‘£1 Million Design on Design’ group, which included architect Peter Buckland, artist Heidi Allen, partner Francis Goodwin and engineer Marc Levy.
Yet the ‘Beachgoer’ is a real puzzle for locals. The prototype structure was a temporary stopgap — intended to fill in a gap on a floating pier in the Old Harbour before work on the 1,500-seat private music venue, The Otome, was completed in 2017. It was meant to be torn down in the early 90s, but was saved by Beachgoer to sit above the public footbridge in 2006. Since, the building has been a temporary collection of shipping containers.
The existing structure, which was built in 1899, features timber planks, the original motor, copper steel rails, polished concrete flooring and dark exposed pier timbers. Meanwhile, the original roof was replaced with polycarbonate in 2014.
And although the structure has been left untouched by developers, the architect behind the other alternative proposals admits it has not always been easy to work with.
“We’ve had to deal with the fact that the box has been technically, creatively and financially uncompromising,” says Catherine Cheok, project lead on the Otome.
“It’s been a very complex site, very difficult to understand.”
Yet, the architects continue to work with the sitewide site’s management company, Isle of Wight Seafront of Association (IOWSA), to lay the foundations for a much better performing structure.
“The most important thing is to get the [idea] in some form,” says Cheok.
“We don’t care whether it’s a bar, a hotel, a concert venue. All we want is to allow everyone who visits to have something that entertains, not a wall to stand on,” she says.
Before beginning its final phases of work, the IOWSA team is currently commissioning a new timber front panel for the box. The design will be unveiled at a special open day on 20 December.