What stands before us now, in the form of F51’s magnitude, is the true realisation of courageous ambition. From initial concept through to articulation of its architecture by utilising state-of-the art construction techniques, the project serves as a prime example of how the built form impacts upon the lives of its surrounding community and, thanks to the generous philanthropic funding that backed the build, will bring endless joy to all those it serves.

Urban Sports Park (F51) Folkestone

Location: Folkestone

Client: Shepway Sports Trust

Value: £10m

Originally destined to become a multi-storey car park, local philanthropist Sir Roger de Haan soon recognised that his development site, situated in the heart of the coastal town of Folkestone (Kent), presented a prime opportunity to deliver a real gift to the region in one of the town’s most deprived wards, in the form of a community asset that would continue Folkestone’s bold regeneration and positively impact the lives of so many through provision of first-class sporting facilities. With this ambition and, after engaging award-winning architect Hollaway Studio, a breath-taking design emerged that would truly push the boundaries and deliver a skateboarding park over multiple floors that would become a world-first in design, construction, and operation. In 2015 the vision was crystallised and today stands proudly, commanding attention from all those who pass by whilst gathering mass media excitement on an international scale for something very special in the built form, and the impact this has on the local community and wider sporting fraternity.

Known as F51 – named so after its location the building is bold in its intent and its stature as an imposing urban landmark rising out of its surrounding landscape to maximise space on a confined site and shrouded in a bespoke mesh façade that gives the building its contemporary yet edgy feel. Delivering first-class skating over three floors; each distinctive and offering a unique experience to visitors of all abilities, additional space has been created to accommodate the South East’s tallest climbing wall, a bouldering course, Olympic standard boxing facilities, as well as a community café and workspace.

Delivering a huge feat of engineering mastery such as F51 requires out-of-the-box thinking. From the building’s shape and size, through to every design detail and the innovative construction methodology required to bring the vision to life. Working on a comparatively small, restricted site, flanked on every angle by busy thoroughfares, the building grows out of the site increasing in size as it rises. A huge parallelogram that cantilevers up and out towards the sky, maximising space whilst creating an unmistakable and unique landmark building.

The whole construction has been meticulously planned around the suspended concrete skate bowls of the first floor; - a world-first in engineering. Dictating the form of the building and dominating the eyeline as you enter, as they gracefully swoop over the main entrance and the community café. Suspended above the ground floor, they appear to majestically float, defying gravity, their surface exposed creating a cave-like entrance hall with their impressive form clearly visible. To achieve their complex construction, a 3D digital model was utilised to aid installation with specialist polystyrene moulds manufactured to act as the falsework for the bowls. The rebar was incredibly complex as every bar was positioned individually prior to a spray concrete mix being applied. It took six weeks to design and schedule and a further four weeks to fix into place. Whilst a traditional concrete slab would be poured continuously the bowls were marked into sections completing one per day, identified as the most economical approach without ever compromising quality.

The upper skating levels of the second and third floors; - the street park and flow park, are formed utilising sustainable plywood, combining the need for durability and performance with the flexibility to modify and upgrade as skateboarding trends evolve and adding over 1500sqm of skateable space. Linking all three floors is the tallest
climbing wall in the south east, reaching 15m in height and one of only three in the UK that is appropriate for Olympic speedwall training, and yet another first for Folkestone. Like skateboarding, climbing was also recognised for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics and with a competition sized boxing ring and training facilities situated on the ground floor the facilities are modern, on trend, and ensures that popular sports, growing in credibility are accessible to all.

Externally, the original curtain wall cassette system of aluminium mesh was enhanced with an inner layer to make the building weathertight, avoiding any lost days of skating due to closures that would have been enforced if the bowls became wet. This generated a far more complex cladding system with load and wind bearing implications and the major
structural changes that ensued. Furthermore, construction methodology was adapted accordingly, and careful lifting operations were essential to piece the 485 bespoke façade panels together.

F51 is operated by The Sports Trust, a Folkestone-based not-for-profit charity established to encourage participation and excellence in sport. Their new home at F51 creates a one-stop-shop for the most extraordinary set of social services, its mission to give young people a place where they feel safe and welcome and essentially where they can have fun, with the Covid-19 pandemic having so detrimentally impacted on opportunities for sport and recreation. A sustainable future in its truest form is where the young are nurtured and given the opportunity to grow and fulfil their potential; to gain new skills and achieve great things. The aim is simple, a common sense approach to invest in this generation, with the aim that it will go on to invest in the one that follows - generational regeneration. Undoubtedly this is the life blood of F51.