Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Redsands seafort - beauty in decay

You'll probably think this is a bit far off topic... I can assure you it's mid- century, though, and it sure does make my heart beat faster, so I'll give it a go!

I have some weird interests. My oil rig fetish is one of them... Growing up during the oil bonanza in my home town, oil rigs under construction and large supply ships were part of the cityscape. After completion, the rigs got towed out to the oilfields in the North sea, and we watched them as they went, filled with pride.


The rig Statfjord A was towed out in 1977


I guess the fascination has a great deal of duality, it's beauty and danger (and obviously, the environmental aspect). There's no denying drilling for the black gold has had a high price. Disaster struck in 1983 as the rig Alexander Kielland capsized, an event that cost far too many lives and left a dark cloud over my home town for a long time. Pretty much everyone were in some way influenced by it. We sailed by the torn off leg that caused the disaster, and seeing the signs of those unbelievable powers that ripped the enormous leg off off is an experience I'll never forget.


Those pioneer days are over a long time ago, but I often think about those times, I notice that even my sense of aesthetics is influenced by those large, rugged steel and concrete structures. So imagine my thrill when I got the chance to visit what I'm about to show you! It took place many years ago, but yesterday, as I was moving all my photos to a new harddrive, seeing these took me right back. It's one of the most peculiar places I've ever been. I got a rare chance to visit Redsands seafort, an amazing structure in Herne bay in the Thames estuary, off the coast of Kent, with some other architecture students.We left Whitstable harbour in the morning.


The first sight of the structures was overwhelming and can best be described by the words of Stephen Turner, a local artist whose work often involves spending long periods in odd abandoned places, noting changes in the complex relationship between human-made and natural environments.

Stephen Turner was in residence alone on the derelict searchlight tower of the Shivering Sands Seafort for 36 days from 4 August until 9 September 2005. A time period corresponding to a tour of duty in the fort during WWII. The Seafort Project was an artistic exploration of isolation, investigating how one's experience of time and place changes in isolation, and what creative contemplation means in a twenty first century context.

"As a small boy I was often taken to the small seaside town of Herne Bay in Kent. The beach was mainly shingle, and not very good for building sand castles, so I frequently used to look into the sea to spy passing pirate ships or maybe killer sharks. On the horizon were a series of, what looked to me, like giant metal monsters about to invade the coast line and destroy everything in their path. These assemblies fascinated me."

Rising from the water like rusty invaders out of H.G. Wells, the Redsands Army Fort in the Thames Estuary is a decaying reminder of the darkest days of World War II. The Shivering Sands and Redsands Maunsell Sea Forts were built in 1942 at Northfleet, Kent and are six-eight nautical miles off the East Kent coast. They were created as anti-aircraft and observation platforms to disrupt overflying by the Luftwaffe on bombing runs to London.

The forts are visible from the Kent and Essex coastlines as small interruptions to the horizon. De-commissioned in the 1950's, standing derelict and disused these utilitarian and brutal concrete structures are poignant reminders of past conflict. They have enormous presence, and a sinister beauty.

After their wartime career, the forts were decommissioned in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 70s, the remaining abandoned forts were famously taken over as a pirate radio station, there were several offshore radio stations at the time, some of them on ships. A ship collided with the towers destroying one of them, but the station regrouped and installed new equipment. In 1966 one of the people claiming ownership of the station was killed in scuffle with another, and the government responded with legislation shutting down off-shore radio stations.

They've been described in the Guardian as "some of Britain's most surreal and hauntingly beautiful architectural relics". The seaforts' structural engineer, Guy Maunsell, went on to use the technology to build the first oil rigs in the North Sea. Project Redsand has been established to secure the future of the Forts and the group are working towards the listing of the Redsand Towers as a National Monument and Heritage site.

The first day we were taken out, it was too windy for the boat to go close to the structures and for us to climb those tiny rusty ladders to board them. The second day, though, we had gorgeous weather, and got to see their abandoned, ghost- like interior.









 




We had tea and biscuits, English style, up on the roof, where the large canons once were, as we watched large cargo ships glide by... What a weird and wonderful experience.























We sailed back to Whitstable in a gorgeous sunset, that made the whole experience seem surreal. I'll never forget it. There. Just had to get it out.

19 comments:

  1. I've always been fascinated by photos of rather grim structures against a backdrop of something beautiful, like the blue skies and fluffy clouds in those photos. I'd never heard of the Redsands Maunsell Sea Forts. Thanks for this wonderfully interesting post!

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    1. I'm so glad you liked it, Dana! Me too- I've always been fascinated by technical structures in the landscape, so much so that for my diploma, I drew a wave power plant to research how large scale technical structures could be implemented in a landscape without blowing it all away as the practice is now. The forts were unknown to me too until then, it's not a well known phenomenon outside the UK. Thanks again, Dana!!

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  2. oh Wow what a fascinating post....just love these photos Tove, what a surreal and alien looking landscape, I can see why they should be on a national heritage register.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ray, I thought I was a bit far off here... Oh yes, it was so strange and surreal, I've never seen anything like it. It was so quiet out there, apart from the sound of the ocean, all you heard was the seagulls and a church- like sound from a bell buoy. The latter really added to the doomsday atmosphere...
      I really hope the forts will be on the National register soon, or they will eventually surrender to the elements. Our guide from Project Redsands told us that the trust is quite conservative, so they weren't at all sure that the forts would ever be added to that list.

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  3. Fascinating post Tove. I really like the pictures too. I adore abstract landscapes made of textural decay. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Me too, Beatriz!!! Oh, I'm so glad you liked my pictures! I can't even begin to describe the atmosphere of that place- it was an amazing experience!

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  4. Thank you to show us these pictures. Very impressive and beautiful too. This could be incredible scenery for film.

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    1. Thank you so much, I'm so glad you liked them! Thanks for visiting my blog too:-) It was an unforgettable visit, I guess it wouldn't be quite the same if it was easily accessible. I've heard that one of these forts were featured in an episode of Dr. Who, as well as a few minutes of a music video by The Prodigy!!

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  5. Rusty things make me incredibly happy! I just LOVE this post, Tove. Your pictures are breathtaking. The fort structures remind me of the movie "WaterWorld" (did you ever see that?) They're hauntingly beautiful. I would LOVE to go in one! I find the gritty things in life to be the most interesting.

    I live only 30 minutes from the gulf of mexico so of course off shore drilling is a huge deal and big business in Texas and Louisiana. It's a mixed bag of feelings when you think of the horrible impact it can have on the environment.
    (hello B.P.) It's fascinating, though. Loved this!

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    1. That makes two of us:-) I'm passionate about steel. I used Cor Ten steel for a lot of projects when I was a student. There's something so very conseptual about a surface that shows lived life and decay, I simply love it.
      I'm so happy you like my pictures, Stacey. The fort was an extremely photogenic place! I DID watch Waterworld!! Same eerie atmosphere! And I SO agree about the gritty things in life. Much more interesting!

      How amazing that you get that fascination/ horror thing. I guess when a business, environmentally hostile or not (the BP disaster was horrible) , you can't help having warm feelings towards the giants that made your home town flourish and was part of everyday life. I guess it has made me love large technical structures in general. Thanks for your lovely comment, it's great to know that I have a like minded oil rig and rust loving friend out there:-)

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  6. Nice photos of a wonderful place out there in the sea. Interesting architecture. Love the rustic surfaces - lovely :-)

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    1. Tusen takk! Ja, det var virkelig overflater og teksturer å fotografere og stemningen der inne var helt surrealistisk. Har aldri opplevd noe lignende. Det er ikke så mange som får komme inn ettersom de er ganske skjøre, så vi var veldig heldige!

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  7. you know we spend lots of time in Whistable...just been there and we are going again..
    my husband loves them

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    1. Cool! I could really have spent some more time in Whitstable, it was a great seaside town. I would love to go in the summer, it was really cold when I was there!

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  8. Beautiful, haunting pics! We love a good power station and disused railways in this house! I would love to create some art from those pics! x

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    1. I LOOOVE power stations too!!! So much that I made a wave power plant my diploma project:-) I'm so glad you like my pics, it's the most amazing piece of "architecture" I've visited, I'll never forget it! You can use the pics if you like, Pippa, it would be fun to see what you'd make of them! xx

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  9. i love these, they look like they could just start walking into my nightmares!
    i always thought oil rigs as exciting places as we knew people growing up in the 70's who worked on them, who told us stories of helicopters and storms and what they ate there! i always would think of them listening to the famous english shipping forecast at night on my transistor radio as it listed all the oil rig areas by name like a lullaby x

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    1. Thank you so much, Max, you gave me some lovely flashbacks! Oh, the shipping news, I still soften at the mention of Dogger bank and Rockall! And any news from my dear North Sea! I guess growing up in England you have those very same memories of the oil business. My dad was an onshore engineer, but had a few trips out on the rigs and I so desperately wanted to come along!

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  10. tove try this

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1394454774138066/

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