Bathing Beauties



Bathing Beauties Main Gallery Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Bathing Beauties
Main Gallery
Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Alan Hewson’s decision to create and mount a Festival of Architecture has two lines of reasoning behind it. Firstly, after the critical and popular success of the Eye, the Festival of Photography in 2012, architecture is a natural extension to the artistic range celebrated at the Arts Centre under his leadership.     

Secondly, the Arts Centre is itself a piece of noteworthy architecture that befits its status as cultural centre for West Wales and beyond. Like Theatr Clwyd Cymru the original Theatr Y Werin was given a hilltop site. Both projects were instances of partnership whereby a local civic institution, County Council or University, took on a role of service and property maintenance, as host for the national arts strategy of Wales.

Both buildings speak of the architectural style of that time, with its stress on geometricality of form. In Flintshire the gauntness of the subterranean car park entry is offset by the uplifting interior. The cream colours and the light from the extensive windows impart to the arts audiences a sense of airiness and openness.

The Millennium improvements under architect Peter Roberts at Aberystwyth were radical. The original entry and staircase became a secondary entrance. ‘Reminds me of East Berlin’ a visitor from Germany had grunted of the old schema on a particularly unwelcoming November day in the last century. Now the arriving visitor approaches with the organic form of the pottery and studio dome in view. Through the pine trees can be seen the line of Thomas Heatherwick pods, whose artistic residencies attract applicants internationally.

The new design is suited for function, but distinctive and humanly scaled, qualities reflected in ‘Bathing Beauties’. The exhibition, part of the Festival of Architecture, comes courtesy of the National Centre for Craft & Design. The exhibition comprises one hundred and ten models of beach huts, built to a scale of one to fifteen. The occasion has been a competition for a commission on the re-imagining of this most ingrained feature of our seaside culture.

The sheer range of ideas exceeds description. The imagination of the designers leaps in all directions, in form, material and reference. The effect is cheering, exhilarating even, not least in an April where winter is having one last blast. The exhibition is architecture as discipline, but also exuberance. ‘Bathing Beauties’ is fun.

A recording of the rhythm of sea hitting shoreline acts as soundscape. It has that particular sound of the English Channel coast, where the beaches are steep banks of shingle. The designs are laid out on eight tables; some are circular or semi-circular, others in the form of long, wave-like tendrils.

Nature has provided inspiration for ‘Oyster Pleasance’, designed by The Beach Hut Salon, in collaboration with architect Will Alsop and A-Models. It is an oyster shell, which can be rotated to face the sun. Carole Andrews’ ‘Revolving Sea Urchin’ is just that. Dai Rees’ ‘Mi-Shell’ takes the form of a breaking wave.

Abstract form is represented by ‘Sencillez’ by Hector Villalba and Phil Owen, like a Suprematist canvas that has taken on three dimensions. There is a hint of Delaunay in ‘Sunspot’ from Tom Wilkinson and Molly Fletcher of Arts Re Public. Their beautiful work is solar-powered and made entirely from recycled plastic.

In a nod to modernity, ‘Gull Wing’ by John Thompon and ASP Ltd suggests a debt to aeronautics. ‘Lazy Susan’ by Mark Thurgood of Thurgood Hobson Design is inspired by the classic US Airstream caravan. By contrast Dan Weekes’ ‘Matchbox’ comesclad in wood.

The beach is a place for play and examples of playfulness feature. ‘Weedy’ by Tobias Schmidt and Sabrina Starke has the beach-goer parting the walls like the pages of a book. Marcio Goncales Luis turns his hut upside down, so that it balances on the angle of its roof. Its title is appropriately ‘the Anti-Gravity Hut’.

‘Lean-to’ from Allison Coley and the Institute of Ideas is an equal gravity-defier. Peter Howcroft’s ‘Seapod’ is a giant seat with umbrella canopy. It is hard to resist an exhibition where a design, Michael Traynor’s ‘Come Up and See Me’, finds inspiration in a highball gin and tonic.  

In an evocation of seaside tradition ‘BH3′ from Robin Jackson, Bobo Design is a giant sandcastle.’Beachdora Box’ from Singapore’s Mr Jit Seng and Richard Yow comes in the bright primary stripes of a deck chair canvas. Deck chair colours can also be seen in the punning ‘Jabba the Hut’. Journey North-east from Irish Sea to North Sea coast and the pot-shaped striped structure, from i-am Associates, can be seen for real at Mablethorpe.

Credits for the exhibition include Eve Ropek and Gaynor Jones in Wales, Michael Trainor, Melanie Kidd, Phil Kosker, Mia Thornton and Rachel Parker in England. ‘Bathing Beauties’ continues until 4th May.