Shoreline Crescent, a mixed apartment and townhouse scheme, is the first phase of a wider development of seven crescent blocks, continuing the Kent town’s regeneration
The message at Acme’s press tour of Shoreline Crescent in Folkestone is that this new mixed apartment and townhouse scheme is not built on the beach. If you have only known Folkestone for a few years, however, you might think it has been.
The south coast town has a funny set-up. The bulk of it, constructed during the Victorian and Edwardian eras as an upmarket seaside resort, is up on the clifftop. The older fishing village runs down the escarpment that follows the lost Pent stream to the sea. The original high street, for example, is a narrow steep winding paved lane connecting the higher and lower parts of the town. At harbour level, there is a marina, the former railway station (now an urban park, revived also by Acme) and a handful of unmemorable buildings. Only the Grand Burstin Hotel – a tired beached streamliner building – makes its mark.
Shoreline Crescent is at the bottom of the cliff below the high-level promenade called The Leas, which was built in the mid-1800s. In recent years, Shoreline’s site was an extremely deep beach with tarmac car parking and the odd non-descript building. The 1885 water-lift funicular and Marine Crescent, an early concrete terrace of townhouses facing the sea, are the extent of the architectural interest. The area does, however, lead to the beautiful green Lower Leas Coastal Park. Before Shoreline’s site was a car park, however, it was a wild permanent funfair called The Rotunda.
That closed in 2003 and the plot was eventually bought by Roger de Haan, a name that has come to be associated with the town’s redevelopment and regeneration over the past 20 years since the family firm, Saga, was sold for £1.35 billion in 2004. You have read about de Haan before in our pages, most recently regarding the F51 skatepark completed by Hollaway Studio in 2022.
All this matters because, to the unknowing eye, Shoreline Crescent looks like a beach grab. The site is approximately 800m long and this is the first phase of seven, on the second designated plot from the coastal park. The other sites are yet to start. For the moment, they look like beach too.
The other important point is that while the site is beach, it is apparently not ‘real’. It is new – relatively. It started growing after the harbour arm was built for the railway in the 19th century. Shingles accumulate and it grows in depth every year. Yet even with its short history, the site has a complicated history, particularly in recent years. What you need to know is that de Haan bought it as part of a bid to create a university campus there. First there was a Foster + Partners masterplan and then a more ‘viable’ one, based on houses, by Farrells following the financial crisis.
When the university campus didn’t happen, de Haan decided to sell it to a developer, and then, when that didn’t happen either, to develop it himself. That’s when Acme came in. There was another competition in 2016 and a fresh masterplan. Acme’s winning bid presented the innovative idea of maximising the number of units with sea views by creating ‘inverse crescents’ – where the convex elevation would face the sea (as opposed to the more usual concave side). The crescents also recalled the Regency tradition of crescents along the south coast – de Haan himself grew up on Folkestone’s Clifton Crescent.
The masterplan is designed around seven crescent blocks, each one different. Shoreline is the furthest west, the shallowest and one continuous arc with 20 four-storey townhouses between two taller apartment block ‘bookends’. Plot C is broken in the centre and more stepped to allow views through to the sea from the existing Marine Crescent. Plot D and E are enclosed to the road in D-shaped plans.
Once the masterplan is realised, there will be hundreds of additional homes on the waterfront, appearing effectively as a new town. Each block is aligned to existing routes through to the beach – with the funicular, Lower Sandgate Road, Marine Terrace and Harbour Approach Road. If you don’t object to the development being there, the masterplan is quite clever and convincing, at least to the western end. To the east, it steps up drastically in height and intensity by the marina, becoming a more commercial, urban district. The views from de Haan’s son’s Rocksalt restaurant, opened more than 10 years ago and also designed by Hollaway Studio, won’t be quite so splendid after that.
You would expect this attention to detail on the masterplan from Acme, of course. And now the first phase is complete, you can see the appeal. ‘The motivation is to do it as well as possible,’ explains practice director Friedrich Ludewig.
It has been. Two of the first things that have been done are raising the level of the beach by 1.5m to mitigate flooding risk, and building a new recycled railway sleeper boardwalk along the beach. The land was, in a way, a gift from the sea and the emphasis has been to keep the project accessible and public. On the beachside, a small lane loops around the convex of the crescent made from coloured tarmac, the beach shingle coming right up to the front doors.
Everything appears to be lightly touching – including the Derek Jarman-style beachside front gardens planted with succulents and grasses – even if the buildings themselves had to be concrete (timber was the first choice but not possible due to cost and apparent lack of local skills). Materials here are visually light and long-lasting: white glazed bricks, anodised aluminium, and as few joints as possible to suit the seafront setting. There are stainless-steel rods connecting the concrete and the brickwork to prevent future staining. There isn’t any surface parking either, that’s tucked underneath.
While the whole building is bowed, the seafront elevation is also a continuous ripple of undulating bays/sea waves. These project into the view so that, as you stand within it, you get that wider panorama. On the rear, concave elevation, the opposite happens – the bays are inversed, internalising the view for privacy and creating a scalloped elevation. Back on the seafront, there is a continuous first-floor walkway that undulates with the facade and additional shell-shaped second-floor balconies. The entire roof is split into terraces with 1.2m-tall party walls for 360-degree views and so residents can get to know their neighbours.
The only oddity is that there are 14 different types of unit. Some are straight-up townhouses or single-level flats, but there are also duplexes and, unusually, interlocking townhouses. So, for example, some houses might be one bay wide at ground floor but then two bays wide at first floor, then back to one bay above and so on. The reason? To create extra spectacular double-bay living spaces and views.
The townhouses are also quite vertical, resulting in living spaces and bedrooms staggered across many floors between front and back. In the show home townhouse, the kitchen is at the rear, opening onto the inside of the crescent, which is laid out with small, slightly sunken private courtyards and a larger communal green in the middle. There is a developer whiteness to the homes, although there are elegant spindles, slender oak handrails, terrazzo kitchen worktops, internal timber Velfac windows and exposed concrete to the underside of the stairs. There could have been a bit more rawness to the interior architecture – something Ludewig agreed with although he is keen to point out that this is phase one, so they are still dipping their toes into the water.
As there are so many types and shapes of unit, there are also many show homes to display the variety on offer. True to design, it’s clear the vast majority will have a sea view, which was the purpose of the redesigned masterplan and, surely, is the purpose of buying a home here, under the cliffs at Folkestone. These show homes have been impeccably kitted out by design store 8 Holland Street with extraordinarily tasteful and high-end furniture and furnishings, mixing mid-century pieces with contemporary, and muted natural tones and weaves with splashes of colour and pattern. They present a complete difficult-to-resist aspirational lifestyle that includes everything imaginable from Vitsœ shelving, to books authored by the founders of The Modern House and Izipizi spectacles left lying on the side.
Difficult to resist that is until you see the price tag of the items and homes, of course. Only 14 affordable homes are planned for plots C to E so far. Prices in the first phase start from £430,000 for a one-bedroom, £640,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, £1.25 million for a duplex, £1.8 million for a penthouse and £1.8 million for a townhouse. Who will buy them is slightly beyond the point. The location is glorious, there is a lot to like about the architecture (including the reflective glazed bricks, some of which are angled to catch the moving shadows of the sun) but you would still need a lot of courage, or plain capital, to spend that kind of money here. Every press visit to Folkestone starts with the story of its decline in the 1980s and 1990s and its sorry state by the early 2000s, even if it’s getting a buzz now.
There’s one significant architectural aspect that I take issue with and which is the major difference with the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian seaside crescents that inspired it – Clifton Crescent in Folkestone, the Royal Crescent in Brighton perhaps. In those, whether they are open to the public or surrounded by wrought iron railings, the half-moon garden space that the crescent forms is nearly always at street level, perhaps ramping slightly, but at the very least visible and green to the street, with a sense of space and civic graciousness. At Shoreline Crescent, the communal residential garden is not only private but raised above the street on what the press pack calls the ‘podium level’. The streetside presentation of this is a huge wall of louvres behind which is the car park with a few beds of planting thrown along it. From the beach it might look like the development has almost level access from the shingles into the houses, but if all the phases of development go ahead to plan with these raised private gardens – as it seems they will be – the walk along Lower Sandgate Road behind will feel like an uninviting privatised gauntlet.
De Haan says: ‘I have spent the past 20 years regenerating the town. I would hate it to damage Folkestone in any way.’ Yet that is precisely what these raised gardens will do.