It also recounts the society evolution and its relationship with the coasts through different cult items. First considered as a hostile, even dangerous place, then as a place of leisure, before becoming thedestination of choice for mass tourism.
“Let’s go to the beach!”
October 19, 2016 – February 13, 2017
Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine
1 Place du Trocadero
Sea bathing, from its curative tradition (balneotherapy) to its current recreational use, answers social and cultural demand governed by financial, economical and commercial rules in ongoing evolution. These seashore leisure activities result in new architectural programs and innovating town planning patterns, which will extend on all coasts. This activity also in- fluences fashion and the creation of items that have become iconic, from the beach hut to the swimsuit.
INVENTING SEASIDE HOLIDAYS
As early as in the 1730s, curative vacations (recommended by the medical profession as an alternative to the practice of thermal baths) which then became entertainment vacations associated with elitist leisure, stem from within the urban British upper class.
This sea bathing practice, called “dipping”, which occurred from bathing machines, floating establishments or facilities on stilts, is mainly developed during the summer season. It rapidly spreads on all western coasts: from the Channel to the Mediterranean Sea, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Baltic Sea, from the North Sea to the Black Sea, developing different practices and architectural programs. It will result in the creation of many seaside resorts, perceived as antidotes to industrial cities, that will experience a truly “Golden Era” during the 19th century. The sites, discovered by “explorers”, are exploited by financial investors and promoted by “crowned heads”, artists or celebrities, whose mythical tales are told by journalists and through advertising in specialised travel guides, mainly aiming to attract foreign customers.
This appeal to coasts for tourist purposes durably transforms the dune and swampy landscapes. These new town foundations necessitate engineering prowess: land drying, draining, terracing and flattening, coasts secu- ring and coastline stabilising through relevant and often titanic infrastructures, designed to tame nature and ease the holidaymakers travel, like dyke walks, jetties/piers or funiculars.
After the developers, come the landscapers, who create park towns in the middle of arid or inhospitable landscapes, on the waterfront or on the edges of cliffs. Large spaces are built up on the dykes and the jetties for admiring landscapes
and strolling, where people come to watch the view as much as for being seen, protected from the tides and winds under tents or cabins, in fixed or movable wicker seats. Sea bathing goes along with other British cultural practices, like outdoor sports (marinas for yachts, golf courses, lawn-tennis, horse racing…), which furthermore intensify the Anglo mania of these elegant resorts.
This was a time of transportation network development, which clearly helped establishing this first generation of seaside resorts. Boats, railways and then automobiles strengthen the flow of tourists and the sea bathing practice. These new towns, entirely dedicated to leisure, build up around diverse architectural styles: the ostentation of palaces, the appeal for architectural cosmopolitanism and the picturesque of a dawning regionalism. Resorts are mainly founded on a trilogy of equipment: the spa, the casino (together with theatres, operas, music kiosks, museum or marine aquariums) and the grand hotel or palace.
These service and leisure towns, organised around these “public” buildings are composed of large house, cottages or villas estates. Their development is based on private land and housing speculation, thus defining very distinctive social and functional area. They form a string of “colonies” on the seafront, according to standardised plans, which could be an orthogonal, checkerboard pattern, a concentric zone model or in a fanshape, landscaped or English style, depending on the site or on the model references that are known in Europe and America. Two seasons stand out. From the end of October to April, wealthy holidaymakers are blossoming in the warm winters of the Côte d’Azur.
The models are taken from Florida or from the socialist countries bordering the Black Sea. If the railway boom supported the development of the first resorts, it’s the car, the symbol of a kind of Americanisation of French society, which makes its grand entrance in the seaside resorts. Charles Trenet can then sing the joy of the route nationale 7, replaced little by little by the “Autoroute du Sud”, renamed “Autoroute du Soleil” (the sun motorway). The national interventionism in the coastal development is done in order to use the seaside resort rise as a national economy driver.
As early as the 1970s, the state gives progressively way to private investors who plan and build large and high-density tourism units. The seawall walks disappear to the benefit of pontoons, marinas or water towns exclusively dedicated to more individual practices of wealthy customers, thalassotherapy and yachting enthusiasts. In these holiday villages, open to the greatest possible number of people through enterprise committees and leisure associations, the multipurpose hall replaces the casinos.
THE SEASIDE RESORT REVIVAL
For around thirty years, this second generation of seaside spaces didn’t resist to the large social and economical changes that shook a western post-industrial society, influenced by the leisure civilisation and globalisation. The first oil shock had to occur for people to realise the consequences of those concrete concentrations on the waterfront or of the holiday home dispersion along the coasts. This change of trend and this new sensibility to ecology, accentuated by the climatic changes, has an effect on all leisure accommodations, on the mountains and on the seaside.
At the same time, the post-modern trend is in accordance with the patrimonialization process of resorts. The seaside spaces that can be urbanized are dwindling due to the many landscape and ecological regulations, which led to the coast densification, the waterfront restructuring or to planning floating or artificial islands. The global competition fostered by low cost travel and the search for sunny regions developed far off and exotic destinations at the expense of local sites. The resort, a holiday centre with a neo-regionalist style, which appeared in the 1970s, is often associated with a leisure complex or an amusement park and provided with an hotel complex whose promotion and management are in the hands of private companies. It is built around artificial lakes, being similar to a big village, in the middle of a landscaped space providing outdoor sports, among which yachting.
In order to fight against the loss of interest from national and international customers, searching for attractions and leisure accessible to closed communities, resort towns, which have been resuscitated through patrimonial revival, take advantage of the tourist season stretching by offering a continuous range of events that punctuates the year. Seaside resorts creations have become scarce in Europe, in favour of new towns and urban planning, created on the waterfront or on artificial islands, specifically in the Persian Gulf.
The seaside resort foreshadows what future towns will be: the majority of the planet lives in towns, attracted by coastlines that favour the economical activities and multiply the leisure opportunities. In France, the seaside resorts are driving economical growth, provided they undergo a vital landscape adjustment, which integrates the cultural, and natural heritage constraints to new leisure practices.