Elephant Cage contest seeks a better outcome for Portsmouth’s sea defences

21 November 2016
Portsmouth needs better, and more integrated, public realm solutions for replacing it’s sea defences. Nick Clarke from Ramboll, and Gina Hodsman from Ramboll Environ are taking part in a unique Anglo-Dutch competition to help find them.
Southsea seafront is the subject of The Portsmouth Elephant Cage design contest. Photo credit: Project Compass

Southsea seafront is the subject of The Portsmouth Elephant Cage design contest. Photo credit: Project Compass

City planners are struggling to find a range of creative, innovative and original design solutions to protect the uniquely distinguished Portsmouth sea front from the growing impacts of climate change-induced rises in sea level.

The Government has ring-fenced a £60 million package of funding to replace the existing defences, which separate the city’s coastal open spaces from the sea. Early plans indicate the new defences could include 3m-high walls in some places, leading to concerns about the potential detrimental impact on the public realm. In particular, that the seaside economy, amenity and leisure potential of the popular seafront will be diminished.

There are a growing number of international examples of how more naturalised landside landscapes can be considered to address such public-realm barriers. To explore all of these, and also to unlock new ideas, Project Compass launched an open competition for young designers to brainstorm ‘enlightened and informed’ sea defences surrounding Portsmouth.

Backed by Architectuur Lokaal and the University of Portsmouth, the competition attracted applications from individual designers aged under 40 wishing to participate in a two-and-a-half day charrette in Portsmouth, 23-25 November. This is an important opportunity for participants to engage, network, embed and acquire knowledge and skills.

The shortlisting and selection of six architects, along with six engineers and six landscape architects, was managed by Project Compass, with nine selected from the UK and nine from the Netherlands.

One of the talented UK designers selected to take part is Gina Hodsman from Ramboll Environ’s office in the New Forest. Gina is a passionate and dedicated Incorporated Civil and Environmental Design Engineer specialising in flood risk management, sustainable drainage design, water quality, infrastructure design, drainage reticulation, urban design and master planning.

The 18 designers will be assigned to teams of mixed expertise and nationality to work up schemes in response to a detailed brief. The teams will be assisted by six specialist mentors (three British and three Dutch) who will be on hand to provide advice. Masters’ students from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Architecture will also be on hand to complete technical, social, environmental and contextual research on the project.

Ramboll director Nick Clarke is one of the three UK expert mentors appointed at the start of the programme. Nick recently provided expert advice to Portsmouth City Council regarding saving Southsea Pier, and has is responsible for more than 20 marine projects around Portsmouth Harbour in the past 15 years. He has a background in historic marine structures, coastal conservation and development (working on sites which are Listed as well as projects within three waterfront UNESCO World Heritage sites). As a marine/coastal engineer, Nick has worked on many other waterfront master planning projects around the world.

A public exhibition will present all proposals generated from the event. These will feature a range of different design outputs developed with significant depth and breadth.

In March 2017, following the charrette, designers and mentors will visit the Netherlands to present their findings to Dutch experts, and will witness various sea defence projects in the country.


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