A £17m ‘world’s first’ piece of architecture has opened in a small deprived town on England’s Kent coast.
The multi-storey F51 building features three indoor skate parks, as well as an Olympic-sized boxing ring, 15m-tall climbing wall and cafe. It stands in the centre of 47,000-strong Folkestone, which has high levels of child poverty.
F51 is the brainchild of multi-millionaire Roger de Haan, whose family fortune was made selling products to older people through Saga Group, which is headquartered in Folkestone. Now, through F51, he is hoping to appeal to a different generation.
‘Roger is putting young people first because they are the future of the town,’ says architect Guy Hollaway, of local RIBA-Award winning firm Hollaway Studio, which designed F51.
This is just the latest in a string of Folkestone regeneration projects that de Haan is behind, having invested more than £100m in the town, from restaurants and art centres to schools and apartments. ‘His vision is for Folkestone to be a great place to work and live and play,’ Hollaway adds.
There is a recent history of multi-storey car parks being repurposed for community or artistic purposes – from Detroit and Miami to London’s Peckham. But this one took a different path.
F51’s site had a defunct bingo hall on it when de Haan bought it, and he initially tasked Hollaway with designing a multi-storey car park there. But his harbour-side apartment scheme by ACME was going to dislodge an existing outdoor skate park. So de Haan decided to relocate it.
‘Typically, skate parks are out of town and unmanaged, and can then get a bad reputation’, says Hollaway. ‘Here, we’re right in the town centre.’
Despite this being a small seaside resort, Hollaway has designed an unashamedly urban building clad in shiny crushed metal. ‘We wanted something urban, to reflect its use.’
To create as much space as possible, the structure tapers outwards as it gets taller, and every floor is cantilevered.
‘I think we’ve created something that’s a bit of a game-changer,’ claims Hollaway, dubbing this
project ‘generational regeneration’.