Shell-shaped shelter by Flanagan Lawrence
built on Littlehampton seafront


The small English seaside resort of Littlehampton has acquired yet another architectural gem, with this performance space and sheltered seating area by Flanagan Lawrence architects joining projects by Thomas Heatherwick, Asif Khan and Studio Weave (+ slideshow).

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

The Acoustic Shells were designed by London studio Flanagan Lawrence to facilitate community events and provide residents of the West Sussex town with a scenic resting spot on the edge of a sunken garden, between the town and a beach facing the English Channel.

"Prompted by a desire to reinvigorate Littlehampton with its gentility of the early 20th century, the shells materially enhance the public open space of the adjacent greensward and satisfy an essential social need that is not provided elsewhere in the area," said the architects.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

The curvaceous shapes of the structures were influenced by the undulating sand dunes found along the local coastline and were produced by spraying concrete directly onto a reinforced mesh framework.

A double-curved form enables the canopies to rise up from the ground without the need for additional supporting pillars or formwork.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

Flanagan Lawrence developed the design after winning an architectural competition organised by Littlehampton Town Council in 2012. It called for a "Stage by the Sea" that would "provide a high quality landmark structure forming the focal point of Littlehampton's Greensward".

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

The design was intended to evoke the traditional bandstands found throughout England, which originated in the Victorian era as stages for musicians who played an important role in entertaining the local community.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

Recognising the continued social importance of public entertainment and the democratisation of music caused by digital technologies, the architects hope the structures will encourage amateur or professional musicians to give impromptu performances.

"The Acoustic Shells are a response to this context, bringing back an old ideal, an architecture that can represent sound, and the people that made it," claimed the architects.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

The larger of the two structures faces the sunken garden and serves to amplify the sound produced by musicians playing in front of its concave surface.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

Behind it, another similar shell has been constructed along the edge of a promenade separating the grassy park from the shingle beach.

This is intended as a shelter where people can sit and listen to the sound of lapping waves reflecting from its inner surface, or as a site for buskers to perform to people passing by along the promenade.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence

The notion of using curved shapes to direct sound was influenced by the concrete acoustic mirrors that were constructed during the Second World War at Dungeness, along the south coast from Littlehampton, as an experimental amplification system to help detect enemy planes.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence
Construction diagram

Other seaside structures in Littlehampton include Thomas Heatherwick's wavy East Beach Cafe and its sister building, the West Beach Cafe by Asif Khan. London studio Studio Weave also installed the UK's longest bench in the town, which meanders along the coastline.

Photography is by Flanagan Lawrence.

Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence
Site plan – click for larger image
Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence
Acoustic diagram one – click for larger image
Acoustic Shells by Flanagan Lawrence
Acoustic diagram two – click for larger image
  • U14 lives on

    Stunningly elegant, elegantly stunning, a divine little slice from the Bavister man, it’s O so nice.

  • This is such a novel idea! I like how the shell made it look like the ground was reaching out to take people under its wing to protect them from the elements. A very interesting piece of outdoor architecture.

  • sociolingo

    I’d like to comment on this article as a Littlehampton resident who has paid for this through our taxes. So far I have not been impressed with the structures. Kids have already daubed them with graffiti and are often to be seen sitting on top of them.

    The sea-looking shell is proving not deep enough to provide shelter from the prevailing winds. It gets very windy in Littlehampton and holiday makers often need somewhere to shelter from the rain but the rain pours straight into the shelter.

    The stage shell also does not really seem deep enough for a reasonable size group. The photo in this article showing the green in front of the shell is extremely photographically distorted. The amount of green in front of the acoustic shell is very, very small and if there were to be a band there it is far too close for hearing comfort. As a recent publicity blurb in the local paper states, ‘the location itself, Banjo Road Car park has raised some eyebrow’s locally as this location doesn’t really allow much of on an area for an audience to gather without the necessity for closing the coach car park.’

    The acoustic shell has a busy car park in front and to the sides high hedges, so there is nowhere for listeners to sit in comfort and listen. The idea was for a free performance space, however, the one group I have seen using this space since it opened in May appeared to have been a personal party and it was obvious that there was no room for listeners to gather to enjoy the music. In fact, it was quite dangerous as the car park was very busy.

    The majority of informal music events that have taken place since the shells were opened have ignored the shells and set up their own marquee in the main grass area where people can sit on the grass and enjoy the music. I might also add that the space where the shells are is where a much loved Millennial garden used to be. This was a well-used sitting space for those who wanted a little oasis on the sea front.

    • Michelle

      Thank you for sharing that. Photos can be deceiving.

    • I wish more residents who are affected by an architectural project on an everyday basis would comment on design websites. This is a real and sobering comment that is completely at odds with the intentions of the project itself.

      Thanks for sharing.

  • Martyn

    A lot of seaside towns have real bandstands that can seat a concert band or brass band, and have a good seating area for the public. This is a total waste of public money as it is too small for a proper band, and has no power for electrical things such as public address systems. What really is the point of it?

    • Little Ham

      That is the point of it – not having any electrical power malarkey. It uses engineering to maximise sound projection hence the shape, and the size creates intimacy with a small band – something more local and less ostentatious then grandeur and pomp that might not be the Littlehampton way.

  • apocalipstick

    Photo definitely deceiving. Went there last weekend after reading Dezeen’s interview with Jane Wood.

    Go and see for yourselves. The photos are beautiful (beautifully photoshopped), but please share your thoughts after visiting. I would like to know what others thought of the project when seen in the flesh.

  • Keith

    I live in Littlehampton and think it’s a fantastic enhancement to the seafront. So glad that it was approved and it is bringing a lot of praise to the area. Along with the East Beach Cafe, West Beach Cafe and longest bench, not to mention the revamping if Pier Road, I wholeheartedly support these buildings. This truly makes Littlehampton stand out with these impressive buildings.