A is for _ – Architect Duarte lobo antunes

A Is For_ is the architect company owned by Duarte Lobo Antunes.  Duarte has been involved in the Folkestone Seafront Development since 2016.  At that time he worked for ACME, the company that has designed Shoreline and the renovations of the Harbour Arm.  Duarte was the chief architect on these plans.  He’s since created his own company that has also contributed to buildings in the development such as Plot D, and they are working on what will appear on the Harbour area.  Folkelife spoke to Duarte about his involvement in the development.

“It’s interesting to appreciate just how much time I’ve spent working on or in Folkestone on this development.  Since 2016, when we first came down on that rainy Thursday afternoon, I’ve had one other project that I was leading at the time.  When that was completed, I have solely been working on the Folkestone Seafront Development.”

the masterplan

“Initially I was part of a team from ACME, the architect firm I was working for at the time. We had been invited to put forward a proposal for the first part of the development.  The station hadn’t been renovated, the area felt very unloved, and we were asked to compete for ideas for the first phase within this masterplan. 

“Our approach, which was quite unusual, was to question the brief; to look at what we had been given and to find the story, what does the client actually want?  The masterplan at the time felt a little automatic.  It didn’t feel as though it was incredibly specific to Folkestone and the seafront.  It was a little generic.  We felt we could make better use of the land and the beach less privatised.  People might not remember but before the boardwalk there was a road separating the hard standing area from the beach.  Now we’ve extended the beach right up to Marine Parade and the new buildings have shingle gardens that mean the beach is much bigger than it was before.”

history and heritage

“Being involved in this project from 2016 also shows that our client, Sir Roger, is keen for there to be continuous thought in this process.  He is invested, we are invested and the strategy is being updated, tailored, reconsidered, fine tuned… it’s a work of great commitment and passion.  It’s not ‘just another project’.  It’s key to understand the thoughtfulness and dedication that’s gone into each element of the development.

“The original plans were to have the station demolished.  That didn’t work for us, and so suggesting it be renovated and become the spine of the promenade entrance has really worked.”

ACME Folkestone Harbour Station Before
Harbour Station
Harbour Arm Folkestone
Inside The Tasting Rooms

Swinging Bridge and Viaduct Folkestone
Harbour Project Folkestone
ACME Swinging Bridge and Viaduct

reminiscing back to 2016

“It’s hard to picture the seafront area as it was in 2016.  We arrived in Folkestone and the Leas Lift was still working.  That’s how we accessed the seafront area and it really felt like a derelict site.  There was a lot of hardstanding, tarmac and concrete on what is now the beach and it felt like a forbidden area, a no-go place.  However, although it was a bleak rainy day, you could sense the potential in the area.  Quarterhouse was already there and had been open and running for over 6 years.  Payers Park had been created into the recreation area it is now for the 2014 Folkestone Triennial.  But everything was condensed into a small area that was the Creative Quarter. 

“Now it feels like that rejuvenation has expanded considerably.  That feeling, that optimism, that special Folkestone recipe that someone described in one of our public consultations as ‘lo fi’ is very evident.  Folkestone has an identity that’s unpretentious, well-considered yet informal.  You could see it in 2016, and it is very prominent now.”

the viaduct and station renovations

“In 2016, no one had access to the Harbour area via the Viaduct.  That had been closed off to the public for years.  The station was in a very sad state.  Our ideas of renovating it rather than demolishing it meant that it retained its position as an integral part of Folkestone’s history as well as recognising its role today.  The signs are bi-lingual, in French and English, to give it that atmosphere of how it was in its heyday. 

“The colours are the livery of South Eastern Railways so it all looks in place.  We found the original manufacturers of the lights – and updated them so they’re much more energy efficient etc – but it fits in with the whole setting.  The station now feels alive and functioning, and a place for everyone to enjoy.” 

taking ownership

It’s interesting to see now how quickly people have taken ownership of the viaduct and station area.  People never could walk across the viaduct yet as soon as it was open, renovated specifically for that purpose, it has become a crucial link from the town to the Harbour.  We’ve breathed new life into something that was never intended to be a public walkway. It’s a wonderful thing to see too, our plans being embraced by everyone who uses the area.”

Leas Lift

Duarte Lobo Antunes worked with ACME until 2021 and then began his own architecture company A Is For_  The two companies retain links with the Seafront Development taking on different aspects of the next stages.  It was while Duarte was leading the Seafront Project at ACME that discussions started on the best way to renovate the Leas Lift. This is an area of work that is still supported by ACME in the development plans.

“It is important for the Leas Lift to be a sustainable and self-sufficient mode of transport in Folkestone.  Linking the Leas to the seafront is important.  There’s the wonderful coastal park that does this with the Zig Zag path etc, but sustainability is key for the Lift’s success.”

a great place to live

“We started building at the Leas Lift end of the development for many reasons. It needs to show that this is a great place to live, and with the hard standing area and lorry park memories, that place is hard to visualise as a ‘great place to live’.  It also gave us more time to work out how the areas closer to the Harbour would work.  The boardwalk was put in earlier than planned and it’s been another example of how people have taken ownership of the routes across the seafront.  The boardwalk is incredibly popular, no matter what the weather, I always see people using it.”

public realm and place making

“What I see has happened with this development is that it’s been approached via an unusual route.  We have created the renovated station and viaduct for people to use and they can see the transformation.  Looking back as we’ve done to 2016, the area is completely transformed and has been done with respect and reverence to Folkestone, the town, its history and we’re creating the next chapter in its life.

 “Our client, Sir Roger, has invested so much into the town to make it a place that is exciting to live in.  His ethos of wanting to bring up your children in a town where you enjoyed growing up is all part of what we’re embracing in these next stages in Folkestone’s existence.  Everything we create needs to be a part of that ethos and continue to build the potential in living and working in Folkestone.”

Harbour Viaduct
Towards the Leas Lift

Find out more about folkestone below

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The Goods Yard – Folkestone Harbour
Your Destination – The Folkestone Wine Company
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