The Longest Bench

The longest bench, designed by Studio Weave, 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 kilometer  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.

As Studio Weave says: “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!”

text&images: Studio Weave

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