Hengistbury Head: Can the breaking point of a building be its biggest opportunity yet?

Plots & Blocks


Situated on the shores of the peaceful Christchurch Harbour in Dorset, this partially closed-down education centre was once a thriving hub for learning a variety of water sports. Now, predominantly used as a storage unit for multiple sailing, boating and canoe clubs, the unsafe buildings are in critical need of replacement in order to restore the social and learning hub they once were. Despite the current closure temporarily withdrawing local opportunities, this break point could also be viewed as an opportunity the rethink the site layout to better serve the needs of the communities it supports.


Our approach to writing a set of design principles to inform a new water sport education centre started by a series of conversations with all of the site’s current stakeholders. The opinions and wish lists of club members was just as important as the requirements of the BCP Planning Department, Historic England, and the Environment Agency. Through a series of online engagement sessions, we were able to highlight the common concerns and make sense of the combined aspirations for a better functioning site, both indoors and outdoors.

As well as larger changing facilities and secure storage areas, any building proposal needed to accommodate a multifunctional, wet classroom in order for the centre to re-earn its title as an educational centre. Outside of the building, we took onboard feedback for additional access to the water with a second jetty, which would help meet the demand of club members.

We created two possible approaches to improving the site; one concept offering an efficient single building that encompassed all the necessary facilities, and the other concept a three-building layout in a formation that created enclosed, outdoor courtyard. Upon presenting these ideas, we listened to feedback and adjusted our designs to create a set of robust design principles to guide future investment.


A project report was produced for our client to review and use, a document full of evidence that outlined the key design principles to inform site redevelopment. Our work enables the council to speed up the planning and design process with full support of the local user groups already in place.