It was a spur of the moment thing but I was near Littlehampton, and thought I’ll go and find that cafe. At that time I didn’t realise it was one of Thomas Heatherwick’s early projects, his first building.
I got to Littlehampton late, and there it was glistening in the streetlights.
Sitting brooding on the seafront like some gigantic primordial slug, or a huge riven pebble coughed up by some massive dinosaur.
The external shell is made of cor-ten, a type of steel that is designed to rust and weather, overtime it forms a deep rusty brown patina. In the sea salt environment EBC was doing very nicely thank you, the patina almost feels like a skin, and mixing the metaphor perhaps just like a leathery monstrous lizard!
But friendly! It has empathy and is not threatening at all, perhaps quite the opposite! Intriguing, engaging, working on our curiosity and walking up to it, along it, inside it, you know this is special.
The elevation facing the car park is just solid, no windows, with the waved lines of the contours, responding to the pebbles of the beach? or the waves of the sea? or perhaps like an iron cumulus cloud in the sky!
I managed to sneak a late meal of posh chips and a glass of wine, and the interior is a delight with fully glazed screens that enable views out to sea, and fold back in the summer, uninterrupted by columns and structure. An internal skin that follows the form of the outside and doesn’t work against the geometry.
The food is good too, and not your typical seaside cafe at all.
But for me the food was immaterial, even though they have a great menu, and very pleasant and helpful staff.
It was just the experience of an architectural gem that is a fusion of technology, architecture and engineering. And I would say right in the spirit of the Modern Movement, using technology and engineering at its’ best to create an original design. That intrigues and excites, and fully engages the senses.
Visit if you can and give it a go.
But walk along it, around it, touch it, feel it, stroke it, just like you were saying hello to some monstrous friendly mediaeval beast! It wants to be your friend!
It lives I think too.
And when no-one is watching, picks itself up and goes for a walk along the beach and who knows, maybe a dip in the sea as well!
Give it a go and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
Let’s be careful out there.
“Thomas Heatherwick rose to prominence early in his career when he was discovered by Sir Terence Conran straight out of the Royal College of Art. Conran leant his workshops to the budding designer superstar to develop his early projects. Conran once called him ‘the Leonardo da Vinci of our times”. Thomas set up Heatherwick Studio in 1994, bringing together architects, product designers and engineers within a single practice. The studio produced many successful product and installation designs but it was not until it was commissioned in September 2005 to create a new cafe on the beach at Littlehampton that it was able to complete a real building. Thomas and his design team, headed by Peter Ayres, created a structure that not only became a popular local cafe but was published around the world, attracting thousands of tourists to the coast seaside. Thomas said that he wanted a space that would be both “ a prospect and refuge” – a welcoming interior with generous views of the sea but also a cosy atmosphere, whatever the weather!” From the EBC website.