Jaywick Sands, near Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, is the largest surviving seaside 'plotlands' development in the UK and the most celebrated. It was founded in 1928 by an inspired, fun-loving landowner, Jack Steadman, who sold small plots - 20ft by 50ft - with timber chalets for as little as £20.The main purchasers were traders and professionals from London's East End who could reach their beach retreats in just over an hour. Shops, cafes and entertainment venues sprung up and Jaywick became a popular resort.
Over the years, the chalets were added to by their owners in haphazard fashion. Many were rented out and most became permanent homes.
I first found myself at Jaywick in the early 1970s on a 'mystery tour' organised by the late architectural historian Reyner Banham and the then AA tutor Peter Cook.
The coachload of architecture students marvelled at the visual delight and practical ingenuity that can result when people are able to customise their own houses, unhindered by planners or building societies.
But Jaywick Sands today is not in good shape. Devastated by flooding in 1953 which claimed 35 lives, the area - most of which is below sea level - has never fully recovered its former sparkle.Although a few chalets are still lovingly maintained by retired freeholders, many are shabby and dilapidated.
The unadopted roads become treacherous in wet weather.
Homes can be picked up for as little as £15,000, and £30,000 will secure something quite decent. Deprivation indicator scores are high and it is reputed to be a seedy haven for criminals and outcasts.
Abandoned mattresses, fridges and even vehicles are a common sight. 'The problem for local residents is that other people see Jaywick as the kind of place you can dump unwanted cars, ' says Rachel Hine of the Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex.The centre was called in last year by a regeneration partnership - which includes Tendring District Council and the Guinness Trust - to help undertake a neighbourhood assessment.
Working from a local office established to involve local people in the regeneration effort, map modelling and other participatory techniques were used to identify priorities.
The results highlighted the attachment people feel to their area and the strong sense of community spirit. Locals do not want to see the area demolished as pushed for by the authorities in the past.The main priorities are seen as better roads and street lighting, with housing repairs, rubbish removal and leisure facilities for children also featuring highly.
A new community centre and workshop units have now been built and, last July, a striking and innovative scheme for 40 new homes for rent, designed by Pollard Thomas and Edwards for the Guinness Trust, was completed and occupied on the land side of Brooklands, one of the worst areas of chalets.
The £2.15 million 'Lotus Way' scheme of 30 houses and 10 bungalows is the first major social housing scheme in the area and was funded by the Capital Challenge Fund and the Guinness Trust.
The scheme is visually striking because of the widespread use of untreated timber cladding, roofing and fencing, the use of monopitch roofs and the decision to abandon the existing plotlands grid layout.
Initial reaction from Jaywick locals to what they have nicknamed 'Dodgy City' has not been positive. 'It's such a contrast from everything else here. People thought they were factories when they went up, 'one told me.'It desperately needs a big can of wood dye - it looks as if someone built the estate and ran out of money.
'All the visitors say: 'When are you going to finish it then?'' Others liken it to a Wild West stage set or say that it is better suited to Australia or Canada.
The monopitch roofs seem to be universally disliked, but the new occupants have quickly become fond of them.'When I first brought friends round they went all quiet. I could see them thinking, 'what has she moved into?' But now I feel it's just the same as anywhere else, and it's got real character, ' says a single mother who was born and brought up in Jaywick.
'Everyone who lives here loves it, everyone else slates it.'
Like other residents I talked to, she is very impressed by the quality and attention to detail at the development, from the garden shed and the water butt to the security fittings.'Everything was thought of and very well thought out, 'she says.
Certainly, Lotus Way is clean and, so far, has not suffered vandalism. Although the late allocation procedure prevented residents from participating in the design (a factor regretted by the architects), all the residents come from Jaywick and most know each other, at least by sight.
'There are 56 children living here but there is a calmness about the place, ' says regeneration project manager Therese Quinlivan, whose commitment to the area and ability to deal with people as individuals from the local office 450m away is frequently praised.'Most people really like the houses and take pride in them.'
Andrew Beharrell, project director for Pollard Thomas & Edwards, says the intention was to reflect the original chalet vernacular in a modern and ecologically efficient way.'The Guinness Trust is very concerned about design and was willing to take up the suggestion that it should be unusual to suit this unusual place, 'he says.
The homes, in pairs, are timber framed and well insulated, with recycled newspaper used in 'breathing wall'technology.
Orientation was a key design factor. All living rooms and bedrooms face south or west and have large windows for passive solar gain and planted pergolas for shading.
There are minimal windows in the north and east elevations (from where the prevailing winds blow), which are rendered and further protected by a shelter belt of new trees.
Contrasting with the chalets' constantly peeling paintwork, the western red cedar timber cladding requires minimal maintenance and has a life expectancy of 60 years.
The large span created by using monopitch roofs made it possible for tenants to choose between a conventional ground floor living room and kitchen or a spectacular open-plan upstairs living space.Some have views over existing houses and out to sea at the front, with a wonderful vista over water meadows behind.
Public areas include a new wetland nature habitat - which takes storm water - an orchard and a formal paved square.
Personally, I like the aesthetic of the scheme, although the north elevation seems rather austere and barrack-like.However, it is unfortunate that Lotus Way feels like a separate estate rather than a natural extension of the existing settlement.This is largely due to it not conforming to the existing rectangular grid system: on approaching down an existing road from the sea front one has to make a detour along a footpath around the edge of the scheme to gain access.
According to Beharrell, an option of extending the grid was abandoned due to cost.'The extra road surface required would have gobbled up a disproportionate amount of the funds, ' he says. The layout was also heavily constrained by the requirement to build a road to create an alternative route to the sea front and a circular route for buses.
The 'estate' feel may ease in time, particularly if residents are allowed to continue the Jaywick tradition of self-build.The construction approach was specifically chosen to provide training opportunities for self-builders in later phases (a second phase of 40 more homes is planned), and the intention is that the design can be adapted to individual houses if and when chalets are demolished.
Whether any demolition of chalets will now happen is open to question.The original vision behind building Lotus Way was to rehouse 40 families in the worst conditions, then demolish their chalets and rebuild one new unit on two plots.
Interestingly, this neat bureaucratic solution to unusually small plot sizes has not happened because, in the event, the 40 worsthoused families turned down the offer to move.
Perhaps people voting with their feet in this way will finally put an end to the constant attempts by remote authorities to demolish the Jaywick chalets and instead stimulate the setting up of programmes to help people restore and further adapt them - albeit not for overcrowded family use.
'I would like to see them improved, 'says Therese Quinlivan.
'They make ideal single person homes.'
Support mechanisms for housing repairs and self-build, combined with harnessing the best design features of Lotus Way for both future new-build and extensions, could lead to Jaywick Sands becoming more recognised nationally as the quirky treasure of social architecture that it is.
This, in turn, would restore confidence in the area, attracting badly-needed private investment.
With its well-established local office and increasingly impressive track record, the regeneration partnership is well placed to move forward on this agenda.
As consulting engineer, Richard Jackson Partnership provided the Guinness Trust with services, beginning with the site investigation.
This development was on the most difficult of ground conditions: 2.8m of made ground had already led to the settlement of up to 1m of the underlying soft and highly compressible alluvial clay on the site to a depth of 10.6m.
There was no alternative but to provide the buildings with pile foundations and, although they were timber framed, the piles eventually took a set when they reached a depth of about 19m. Initially, the piles fell under their own weight. Road construction necessitated the use of a 540mm thick sub-base, reinforced with two layers of geo-grid. The fact that adders, slow worms and lizards lived on the site caused a delay in road construction during their hibernation period, after which they were captured and moved on.
By comparison, dealing with low-level contamination on the site was easy. The firm's final role was to act as contract administrators for the road and drainage construction, designing the drainage on the basis of a one in 100-year storm by the use of an off-line storage lagoon.
Costs based on final accounts
ENABLING WORKS TRANSLOCATION OF REPTILES 25,544 Adders/common lizards/slow worms
PRE-EXCAVATION OF SITE 30,505
MONITORING OF GAS GENERATION/ERADICATION 11,165
ROADS AND SEWERS 264,822
SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATION/SLABS 199,967 Driven piles/in-situ ground beams/precast slabs
SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME 454,472 Timber-framed panels/'breather wall' sheathing - to form all external/party walls, upper floor and roofs
WINDOWS/EXTERNAL DOORS 95,439 Double-glazed
CLADDING/INTERNAL LINING 97,711 Sawn cedar, untreated/areas of render on expanded metal/plasterboard
ROOF 133,615 Cedar shingles/cedar eaves, fascias etc/plastic rainwater goods
STAIRS 84,077 Timber
PARTITIONS 86,349 Timber/plasterboard
FIRST FIX 120,889 Plumbing/electrics
INTERNAL FINISHING 93,451 Skim coat of plaster/chipboard floors
SECOND FIX 114,701 Sanitary ware/electric water heating, storage and convector heaters
DECORATIONS 54,537 Emulsion and gloss paint/stain to external joinery
DRAINAGE AND EXTERNAL SERVICES 180,121
HARD AND SOFT LANDSCAPING 182,816
PRELIMINARIES PRELIMINARIES 249,503
Cost per m2 Per cent (£) of total
SUBSTRUCTURE 66 11.3
Frame 149 25.5
Windows/external doors 31 5.3
Cladding/internal lining 32 5.5
Roof coverings 44 7.5
Staircases 28 4.8
Partitions 28 4.8
First fix 40 6.8
Internal finishing 31 5.3
Second fix 36 6.2
Decorations 18 3.1
PRELIMINARIES 81 13.9
TOTAL 584 100.0
Costs based on analysis of main contract construction costs for a typical house (threebedroom, five-person, type B at 88m2 at £61,576 average each). Excludes enabling works and design and building control fees Costs supplied by Burr and Neve
CLIENT Guinness Trust
ARCHITECT Pollard Thomas & Edwards Architects
DESIGN TEAM Andrew Beharrell, Peter Furley, Tracey Hart
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Burr and Neve
STRUCTURAL AND CIVIL ENGINEER Richard Jackson Partnership
SERVICES ENGINEER Fulcrum Consulting Engineers
CONTRACTOR Galliford Hodgson Ltd
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Bell Fischer Landscape Architects
CONTRACT TYPE JCT1 START DATE June 1999
COMPLETION DATE July 2000
TOTAL COST £2.55 million
TOTAL FLOOR AREA 3,070m2
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS ground floor precast concrete floors Brand Precast; timber superstructure Prestoplan Purpose Built; windows Ardon Windows; wall insulation Warmcel Insulation; western red cedar roof shingles John Brash and Co; rooflights Velux; external stain Cuprinol; decoration to external render Keim Mineral Paints; ventilation Passivent, Willan Building Services; electrical installation Suffolk Electrical Services; plumbing Tendring Heating Centre; breather membrane Tyvek ; breathing wall board Panelvent