Hirst-on-Sea: English Artist Looks To Build a Country Town

Hirst-on-Sea: English Artist Looks To Build a Country Town

While architects are often accused of wanting to be artists (albeit ones with wealthy clients) artists are also sometimes guilty of wanting to be architects. There are, of course, artists whose work crosses into architectural themes like James Casebere and Ernesto Neto to name only two but there are artists who want to actually build. Think of Donald Judd in Marfa, Ai Weiwei, Olafur Eliasson, and now Damien Hirst.

But Hirst is not happy just designing buildings—he wants to create an entire town. According to English newspapers, Hirst has submitted a planning application to the North Devon Council to build “750 homes, a school, shops, health centre, offices, sports pitches, playgrounds and cycle paths on the edge of the seaside town of Ilfracombe.”

The English sculptor has at least had the good sense to hire architect Mike Rundell (who helped the artist design Pharmacy the late Notting Hill gate restaurant) to help design and build his dream (on 187 acres of land he owns).

Sadly It does not seem that Hirst has realized what architects know by training that a town can no more be designed by a single individual than a neighborhood—at least since the Renaissance. The proof of this is that the first renderings look like a Milton Keynes by the sea, despite Rundell’s claims that Hirst has a horror of “anonymous, lifeless buildings. He wants these houses to be the kind of homes he would want to live in.”

Once the artist/architect gets the inevitable push back from residents he will realize what Disney did in Celebration: that towns cannot be designed in total from a blank slate, but are created through thousands of small decisions made by individual residents and private players.

Let’s hope this “town” has more life than Prince Charles and Leon Krier’s New Urbanist Poundbury in nearby Dorset.

The locals have taken to calling the proposed town “Hirst-on-Sea.”