Southend Pier Cultural Centre opens to the public

The construction of Southend Pier Cultural Centre has completed and is now open to the public ahead of an official inauguration this Autumn. Measuring 1.34 miles and featuring its own train line, Southend Pier is the world’s longest pleasure pier. The new 376 sq m cultural centre is sited at the end of the Grade II listed pier. The challenge of the project has been to construct a dynamic new building onto a listed and fragile structure in an offshore environment.

The new building, designed by Scandinavian practice White arkitekter in partnership with UK-based architects Sprunt and structural engineers Price & Myers, was the winning scheme in an international design competition organised by the Landscape Institute in 2009. The design ‘Sculpted by Wind and
Wave’ was favoured for responding to the conditions of the site whilst presenting a radical deviation from the traditional Victorian architecture of the town.

Originally constructed in the Victorian era, the pier has survived fires, boat crashes, two world wars and economic decline, as well as undergoing a series of design alterations and amendments since it opened in 1830. The cultural centre is the first structure added to the pier head since 2000 when a new lifeboat station was built and it is hoped that the centre will revitalise the historic pier’s fortunes following the fire that devastated it in 2005.

Unlike most British piers, which are populated by amusement arcades and rides, the new cultural centre aims to reinstate Southend’s most famous landmark as a continuation of the seafront town onto the water by creating a vibrant public space on the pier from which to enjoy the landscape of the Thames Estuary.

The building’s sweeping geometric form and harmonising palette of materials celebrate the topography of the windswept site integrating it into the scenic landscape. The dynamic roof shape, which measures up to 9 metres from floor level, houses a large multi-purpose events space with floor to ceiling glazed elevations. Orientated South facing, the entrance façade is set back beneath the roof forming a sheltered entrance and café terrace from which to enjoy views out onto the water.

The building has sloping walls and a twisting hyperbolic paraboloid roof form. Modeled in 3D using Catia, software more commonly used in the design of planes or cars, the geometry of the structure gives the building its signature sweeping profile. The complex modular arrangement of triangular frames makes efficient use of material. A system of supporting trusses gives the building the stiffness it needs to spread its weight evenly over the pier’s 100-year old cast iron piles.

Due to the challenging conditions of the site, contractors Kier fabricated the building off site at Tilbury Docks and craned it into place in one piece. The 170 tonnes steel frame structure was transported from the docks on a barge along the Thames Estuary and craned in at high tide using a 400-tonne marine sheer leg crane. The structure itself was strong enough to be hung from only four points without twisting or damaging itself in the exercise, which required careful planning and precision and was successfully achieved in just 24 hours.

Salt corrosion, wind and wave loads are some of the elements that combine to make the pier head a hostile environment for building. Durable materials have been specified throughout to help achieve a long expected lifespan under these conditions. The roof and wall panels are built of insulated marine plywood decking covered with a waterproof membrane. The walls are clad with Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) panels, whilst the roof is treated with a non-slip textured top coat which is colour matched to the GRP walls to give the building a unified expression.

Working in consultation with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) the team has specified a roof surface treatment to sustain the Turnstone birds that roost on Southend Pier. Similarly the facade glazing is tinted green to discourage the birds from flying into it.

The new cultural centre boasts some impressive environmental credentials: the superstructure is built of recyclable steel; the building envelope achieves a high level of insulation and air tightness; and the building achieves 10% renewable energy with the provision of air source heat pump technology, mechanical ventilation and a heat recovery system.

Flood proofing strategies include raising the building 1.5 m from the deck of the pier. Reclaimed decking from underneath the building provides a datum at the base of the building and a ramped timber walkway made of the same FSC-certified tropical wood provides access.

The main space, with its dynamic waveform ceiling, has been designed to accommodate a range of cultural activities and events programmed by Southend Council, including art exhibitions, theatre and music performances, film screenings and private events such as weddings. The triangular panels of roof, which anchor to the long wall of the building create unexpected oblique views out. Floor-to-ceiling glazing on the North and South elevations gives a clear view through the entire building and frames a panoramic view back to the shoreline.

Adjoining the main space is a 40 sq m artist’s studio, a café which opens onto the entrance terrace, public toilets, a kitchen and store.

During the day the GRP cladding has a translucent quality which changes tone, appearing white in bright sunlight and greenish grey when the sky is overcast. At night luminaires delineate the building’s sculptural profile. Southend Pier is a landmark structure closely associated with the town and particularly to the typology of Southend’s shoreline. The new Cultural Centre brings new life to the promenade and reclaims the pier as the town’s main attraction for both the town’s residents and tourists.


Claire Curtice Publicists
Tel: 00 44 (0)207 613 1442
Email: ku.oc1503489599.ecit1503489599rucer1503489599ialc@1503489599liam1503489599

Professional photographs © Luke Hayes are available upon request.

A short film produced by Apricot Productions documenting the craning in of the structure is available for online streaming and can be viewed at:


Brief history of the Pier:
1830 Pier first constructed as 150-metre long structure for loading boats at high tide
1843 Pier extended to 450 metres
1848 Pier extended to 2,100 metres
1889 The entire wooden structure was replaced with cast iron structure
1890 The pier’s electric train made its maiden voyage
1897 Pier head added
1908 Upper floor added to the pier head
1995 Fire destroys the bowling alley
2000 New lifeboat station added to the pier head
2005 Fire damage destroys the old pier head including southern train station, emporium and bar
2007 Saville Jones appointed to restore the pier structure
2009 White arkitekter win international competition for the design of Southend Pier Cultural Centre and invite UK based Sprunt to collaborate as design partners
2009 Saville Jones restore the pier structure, deck and train station
2011 Planning permission obtained for Southend Pier Cultural Centre
2012 Southend Cultural Centre opens to the public

Project facts and credits:

Location: Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK
Size: Cultural Centre: 376 sq m, External deck and stairs: 264 sq m
Client: Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
Architect: White arkitekter
Executive Architect: Sprunt
Structural Engineer: Price & Myers
Services Engineers: Atelier Ten and DGR Mechanical Services
Building Contractor: Kier Construction
Quantity Surveyor: Sweett Group
Fire Consultant: IFC, International Fire Consultants Ltd.
Acoustic Consultant: SRL technical Services Ltd
Planning Consultant: Turley Associates
Environmental Consultant: AECOM
Marine Consultant: HR Wallingford Ltd
Culture Planning: Noema Culture & Place Mapping

Project Schedule:

Competition date: August 2009
Design phase: July 2010 – Dec 2011
Construction: Jan 2012 – August 2012
Big Lift craning in: May 2012

White arkitekter

With over 60 years experience in architecture and masterplanning, White arkitekter is Scandinavia’s leading architectural firm and, with around 600 employees, one of Europe’s largest. White’s expertise encompasses architecture, urban design, landscape architecture and interior design with an emphasis on making sustainable architecture that contributes to building a sustainable society. The internationally acclaimed sustainable city developments of Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm and at the Western Harbour in Malmö demonstrate the practice’s commitment to, and innovation within, the
field of sustainability.

In the UK White arkitekter is regenerating a 1.5 hectare inner city site in Greengate Salford, into a new sustainable neighbourhood. Elsewhere in Manchester White have developed a Sustainability and Environmental Framework for the regeneration of West Gorton, an area of the city which has historically suffered from serious deprivation. The practice is one of 6 practices to be shortlisted for The Sunday Times British Homes Awards 2012 design competition, Tomorrow’s Smart Home, the winner for which will be announced on 19 September.


Established in 1988, Sprunt are masterplanners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects. Through organic growth, Sprunt has enjoyed nearly 25 years’ experience in designing and implementing projects in London and the South, with an emphasis on Regeneration, Residential, Education, Leisure, Health and Mixed Use developments. Through care, dedication and a thorough approach to design, Sprunt has inspired change and developed vibrant, safe, secure and dynamic places that will endure.

Price & Myers

Price & Myers was established in 1978 in London as a firm of consulting structural engineers, with the aim of working with good imaginative architects to make excellent buildings. In its first 33 years the company has completed over 21,000 jobs and won over 400 awards. Price & Myers have offices in London, Nottingham and Oxford, and currently employ about 130 people.

Kier Construction

Part of the Kier Group, Kier Construction provides a comprehensive building and civil engineering service delivered through a nationwide network of locally managed businesses, complemented by a major projects capability. Its eastern operations, carried out from offices in Witham, Wisbech and
Norwich, have a lineage stretching back over 140 years and provide an unrivalled service to both the public and private sectors.