Over 23th – 25th November 2016, the Portsmouth Elephant Cage brought together seventeen competitively selected young Dutch and British experts in Architecture, Landscape and Engineering to work jointly on design research to investigate the Portsmouth and Southsea coast frontage. The work was undertaken in collaboration with Masters students from Portsmouth School of Architecture Studio MUD (making, understanding and doing).

The UK competitor submissions to participate, in response to the Competition brief, were selected through an ‘Open Design Contest‘ process organised by Project Compass and assessed by:

Over three days, the three teams of competitors prepared three designs in answer to the project brief, for the Portsmouth Southsea frontage that might responded to climate change induced rises in sea levels and the coastal defences being proposed there; exploring propositions for local and global application.

Seven eminent expert design mentors from three faculties supported the teams through the programme:

who together with

presented a broad selection of inputs and relevant papers informing the brief and context which can be viewed HERE….

The Portsmouth Elephant Cage concluded with a presentation of the three schemes that were developed over the programme for the public and key stakeholders and hosted in The Portsmouth School of Architecture. An exhibition showing some impacts of the current proposals was also displayed.

Height of the proposed sea defences in five locations showing the impact from ground level on existing landside views and access towards the sea on the Portsmouth Southsea frontage. (models by Russell Gould with montage)

Many opportunities for enhancing the strategy and vision for Portsmouth’s frontage were highlighted by a breadth of new, stimulating and innovative design ideas from the three teams. The teams ideas were entitled:

Awake, Asleep and Dreaming‘, ‘The New Common‘ & ‘Dancing Coastline

From the discussions that ensued at the public presentation it is expected that opportunity will be taken to explore these ideas so that the Portsmouth Southsea Coastal Defence Scheme being led by the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership (ESCP) might be enhanced, informed and implemented, mindfully of these so that a vision which improves values further for the future amenity and economy of Portsmouth and its many visitors can be provided.

The design scope and programme enhanced knowledge transfer, developed cross professional expertise and collaborative working practices. It also developed expertise and solutions having wider application for improving city resilience and sustainability globally.

The Portsmouth Elephant Cage was funded by

and organised by:


A review in the Architects Journal ‘Revealed: Finalist visions in Portsmouth ‘elephant cage’ sea defences contest’ is available here (by external link).

An article in Design Curial ‘Sea change: Resilient flooding schemes’ with extensive coverage of The Elephant Cage and other global initiatives is available here (by external link)

Stage 2.

A session for all participants was then held in the Netherlands in March 2017 which allowed the Elephant Cage participants the opportunity to visit a variety of innovative recent projects there, meet the designers, promoters and developers and further their researches.

Reports and outcomes.

A report in June 2017 with an evaluation of the current proposals for sea defences along Portsmouth’s Southsea frontage raised significant issues. in the light of the findings the report also proposed an alternative design strategy for the Portsmouth Southsea frontage illustrating an approach enhancing the value, amenity, environment and ecology of Southsea common, whilst delivering a more sustainable future Portsmouth. The report recommends actions forward on the frontage proposals. This report is available here.

An exhibition of the proposals was held in Portsmouth Cathedral as part of the Grassroots Festival in July 2017. The exhibition panels’ are available here.

Five public presentations on the findings and the alternative proposal were subsequently delivered over 2017, and a video is now available here.

To seek improvements to the design of the Southsea frontage a local residents campaign ‘The Southsea Seafront Campaign’ launched in 2017 and campaign notices, events and details maybe found on facebook @Southsea Seafront at Risk.

The Portsmouth Elephant Cage design research, process, procedures and summary practice findings have been reported in:

Menteth, W. Designing Sustainable Sea Defences: Developing Principles for Procedures, Processes and Practice. In: M. Young (ed.), AMPS Proceedings Series 9. Living and Sustainability: An Environmental Critique of Design and Building Practices, Locally and Globally. London South Bank University, London, 08 – 09 February (2017). pp.342-359. ISSN 2398-9467

Following extensive consultation and significant design changes for the better, a Planning application was formally submitted in late 2019 and approved in 2020 for the length of the Southsea sea front. In June 2020 the central government funding contribution amounting to £100m was finally approved (and reportedly having risen from £60m in 2016 Project Brief), allowing with the other commitments made, for commencement in late 2020.

Should you require any further information on this ongoing programme please get in contact.

An Elephant Cage is a type of design charrette developed by Architectuur Lokaal. It encourages alternative collaborative analysis and solutions of key emergent and strategic issues requiring spatial design resolutions. It is a flexible format for collaborative practice, with a competitive selection stage, which puts ‘big young beasts together with mentors’; and was inspired by a Geert Bekaert review in 1965 of Architects Casson Conder and Partners’ Elephant House, Regent’s Park Zoo, London.

Elephant Cages have previously been held in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Turkey.

© Island City Papers

© Island City Papers