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The end of the pier show

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MetalWorks Little gems

Shed KM's new glass and steel pavilion at the pier-head in Southport has brought some seaside magic back to the area

For Victorian holidaymakers at the seaside, a walk along the pier was a favourite summer pastime. Their need for exercise was certainly satisfied at Southport, north Lancashire; the pier stretched out to sea for more than 1,100m, the second longest in the country.

It was built by engineer James Brunlees using his 'pile jetting' system and completed in 1860. Although often referred to as the first purpose-built 'pleasure pier', its pier head was also an embarkation point for steamers - in those days the Southport channel had not silted up as it has today. The pier was a great success; in response to steamer passengers' complaints about the long way to carry luggage and the lack of shelter, a refreshment room was built at the pier head and a steam-driven tramway installed to ride out to it.

Like other Victorian piers, Southport pier declined. The channel silted up and boats were unable to reach the pier-head. The pavilion was demolished and the pier-head buildings were destroyed by fire. In the 1990s, now Grade II-listed, it was saved from demolition by a group of enthusiasts who subsequently raised funds to restore it. The architect Shed KM, together with McAllister Co, won a limited competition to design a new pavilion at the pier-head.

'We wanted to create an exciting destination at the seaward end of the pier, a building which would act as a counterpoint to this historic piece of engineering, ' explains Dave King of Shed KM. The new pavilion does just that. It is a delicate structure of exposed steelwork and glass which offers warmth, shelter and a magnificent view of the Mersey estuary and the Welsh hills through a 45m glazed wall. The original hammerhead-shaped pier head gives encompassing views of the bay. The pavilion is set on independent foundations to one side of it to avoid obstructing these views. It will contain a cafe, exhibition and WCs - a welcome relief for those who have walked the best part of a mile to get to the end of the pier. A new three-car tram, planned to run along the pier, has not yet materialised.

In plan the pavilion is extremely simple, a single-storey 45 x 18m space with canted fully glazed walls on the south-west side - the great view - and the north-east side - the main entrance. Two solid service cores house an office, kitchen and WCs; clad with bright blue panels, they create a buffer zone at the glazed northeast wall, which flanks the original pier, and frame the main entrance.

The roof extends over the main entrance to shelter it and gently rises to oversail the glazed facade on the south-west. The two glazed walls are flanked by solid gable walls on the north-west and south-east sides, clad with trapezoidal aluminium sheet.

The pavilion has an exposed steel structure and aluminium roof covering and cladding - a logical choice for lightness and strength, and suggestive of the image of a ship moored alongside the pier. The roof rests on six exposed steel beams that gently curve and taper towards the south-west wall.

They are supported and braced by six Vshaped 250 x 150mm RHS columns which run along the exhibition space, and by six canted 250 x 150mm RHS columns running outside the entrance wall, braced by exposed steel A-frames.On the south-west facade the glazing is supported by structural steel mullions (see working detail overleaf ). The tapered ends of the roof beams extend beyond the glazing, propped with slender steel struts braced with diagonal rods, which rest on extended and tapered floor beams.

At the gable ends both sets of columns are set outside the walls so that the structure is clearly visible.

The space is heated by means of heat pumps that provide warm or cool air to a raised access floor plenum; an exposed aluminium duct runs along the ceiling to extract waste air.

Since it was built, Southport sands have silted up to the extent that the pier now passes over reclaimed land - surprisingly an ornamental lake, a miniature-golf course and a road run below it before you even reach the beach. It is a long walk but with a special magic and a memorable destination.


ARCHITECT Shed KM Dave King, Mark Sidebotham



MAIN CONTRACTOR Harbour & General

SUPPLIERS Standing-seam aluminium roof Kalzip; trapezoidal sheet cladding Welltec; structural glazing O J Taffinder; plenum raised floor Quiligotti; carpentry Specialist Joinery Services; entrance door Dorma; internal doors Accent Hansen; escape doors MAG Hansen; lighting iGuzzini, Kreon

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