In 2005 a fire severely damaged much of the old pier head at Southend-on-Sea Pier, thought to be the longest pleasure pier in the world. White Arkitekter and Price & Myers won a competition in 2009 to design a new cultural centre, theatre and restaurant at the pier head, 1.34 miles offshore.
Restricted access and the harsh maritime environment informed the design and its construction, with an economic and simple structure of steel beams, vertical triangular trusses for the walls, and timber floors being used.
The twisted triangular and hyperbolic surfaces of the building provide shelter from the wind, with the tapering forms of the triangular frames filling voids to create a structure that is thin against the sky yet fixed sturdily down on a wide stable base. The roof is made by joining two hyperbolic paraboloids to create a form that has thin edges but tapers to a deeper midspan.
A small train runs along the pier with a narrow board walk alongside the tracks, but using the track with its nearly two-and-a-half-mile round trip would have meant moving the whole building in small pieces. Instead, the solution adopted was to prefabricate the entire structure in Tilbury Docks further upstream on the Thames and tow to Southend in one piece on an ocean-going barge. The 170 tonne 350 sq m building was then gently craned onto the pre-prepared pier by a 400 tonne sheer leg floating crane which had travelled from Tilbury with the barge.