Blackpool remains the UK’s leading seaside resort but visitor numbers have almost halved over the past twenty years and regeneration of the seafront and town has become essential. A major investment in coastal defence infrastructure has provided the catalyst for regeneration with the creation of a 3 kilometre long series of headlands and connecting promenades providing the space for the ‘People’s Playground’ as well as essential protection against rising sea levels and storm flooding.
In 2007 LDA Design won the international design competition for the People’s Playground. The practice’s proposals envisaged a ‘surreal dunescape’ extending the length of the People’s Playground, and creating a topography inspired by the natural system which pre-dated the development of the resort. The dunescape would be characterized by super-sized play elements, including 35 metre high kinetic ‘marram grass blades’, and on the central headland an aerial light display that would use cloud cover and atmospheric mist to create a spectacular night-time landmark.
LDA Design has now completed the first headland space – the Tower Festival Headland. Located in front of Blackpool’s iconic Tower, this headland forms a flexible events space for crowds of up to twenty thousand people and connects the town to the seafront, replacing a pedestrian bridge over the road with a shared space. The centerpiece of the headland, the ‘Comedy Carpet’, designed by Gordon Young and Why Not Associates in collaboration with LDA Design, is a celebration of comedy on an extraordinary scale. Referring to the work of more than 1,000 comedians and comedy writers, the carpet gives visual form to jokes, songs and catchphrases dating from the early days of variety to the present. The 2,200m2 work of art contains over 160,000 granite letters embedded into concrete, pushing the boundaries of public art and typography to their limits. A remarkable homage to those who have made the nation laugh, it’s also a stage for popular entertainment that celebrates entertainment itself.
On the seaward side of the space are a series of ‘windbreak masts’. Designed by LDA Design these allow a fabric windbreak system to be quickly put up to provide shelter for major events. Giant pre-cast ‘pebble seats’ and ‘dune lounger seats’ read as pieces washed up on the Town’s second beach and provide informal seating for large numbers of people. Framing the space are four ‘marram grass blades’. Designed by Atelier One and Freestate in collaboration with LDA Design these 35 metre high kinetic sculptures have a swaying motion of twelve metres and create a vertical definition of the space, whilst responding to the immense scale of both the Tower and the bay. The ‘Hollywood Staircase’ provides a grand connection with the beach, replacing the old walls that previously characterized the seafront.
The new headland space also features a new piece of architecture – Festival House – which provides purpose built accommodation for a wedding venue, tourist information centre and restaurant. Designed by Stirling Prize shortlisted architect dRMM in collaboration with LDA Design, the golden building creates a stunning venue for weddings with a picture window in the ceremonial room framing the Tower.
LDA Design’s approach to both the People’s Playground and the Tower Festival Headland has been driven by Blackpool’s unique character and by a desire to excite and amaze while creating a place for escape and fantasy. Consequently the designs have been unashamedly populist, and ‘no brow’, and are evidence of a practice that is confident in its ability to respond to the power of place.
Tower Festival Headland | Blackpool UK | LDA Design
Design Firm: LDA Design Consulting LLP
TEXT & IMAGE CREDIT | LDA Design