Coastal caravan on seaside pilgrimage to save ecology

February 20, 1998

TWENTY-ONE European architectural schools are involved in Coastwise Europe, a project to illustrate the impact of increasing wealth and leisure on Europe's lengthy coastlines.

Coastwise Europe sprang from the determination of Bert van Meggelen, director of Rotterdam's Academy of Architecture, and his colleagues to measure the economic, cultural and social changes of postwar European society and rise of a tourist industry. Professor van Meggelen saw Europe as a group of regions where coastal areas had become a patchwork quilt of cultures. An annual trip to the seaside has developed into mass travel with damaging ecological consequences.

With finance from the Dutch board of higher education and Rotterdam's port authority, Professor van Meggelen began to put the ideas into practice and in April 1997 an exhibition in a container lorry started a year's journey.

The first landfall of the exhibition in Britain had been planned for Scotland but funding problems prevented work from Glasgow's Mackintosh School of Architecture and assessment of other nations' work being shown in Scotland.

The first stop in 1998 was Ireland. Dublin's University College students concentrated their efforts at the Atlantic edge of a remote, under-populated and sacred coastscape of Clew Bay and Achill Island, County Mayo. Concerned that government-inspired low-tax inducements for tourist developments would destroy the sense of place, fifth-year student Paul Barry developed sensitive and sustainable ways to increase local jobs while Emmett Scanlon and Ruth O'Herihy relocated public services in disused old buildings.

England's Northeast coast is a land of erosion, but Humberside University's school of architecture is set to challenge this demographically, socially and economically. Hull, with its vision for the 21st century being that of a dynamic maritime city, will be the exhibition's last British port of call. Hull's students followed the standard brief of analysing 100 kilo-metres of fragile coastline but quickly saw that the regeneration of the port would bring eventual benefit to the whole region.

A conference designed to explore innovations in tourism, radical approaches to land and seascape, long-term planning and management of lands washed by the same waters, supported by an exhibition, ends today. Finance was obtained from the Socrates programme to fund the event and establish a North Sea consortium. Member universities are Humberside, Rotterdam, Ghent and Kingston-upon-Thames along with Hull's City Visions body.

After Hull the exhibition shifts from Rome to Stockholm, St Petersburg, Genoa, Selcuk and Barcelona, arriving in September at the World Expo Lisbon with its theme of "The Oceans: Heritage for the Future".

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