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October 18-24, 2006

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'Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature'

Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature
(By Fred Gray; Reaktion Books, distributed by the University of Chicago Press; 336 pages; $40 cloth)

Summer has passed, and now is the time to read about going to the beach, instead of going to the beach. This close to the ocean and Santa Cruz Boardwalk, littoral leisure seems second nature. But as Fred Gray points out, the idea of relaxing by the sea has a long and complex history. Gray's study focuses on British resorts, but its observations can easily be expanded to fit any oceanside pleasure domes. In the beginning, the ocean was for fishing, not swimming, until the Rev. William Clarke and his wife, in 1736, spend a month on the south coast of England. The salutary effects of sea water were promoted to the upper classes, who entered the water through the modesty-preserving transitional vehicle known as the bathing machine, a changing tent on wheels pulled into the waves by a horse. In the 20th century, the resorts morphed into entertainment zones with amusement rides and elaborate architectural fantasies like the pseudo Eiffel Tower at Blackpool, for many years the tallest building in England. The democratization of the seaside led to the criminal hustle described by Graham Greene in Brighton Rock, where the holiday visitors "came in by train from Victoria every five minutes" and a petty thug could easily lose himself in the crowd. The volume is lavishly illustrated with evocative period photographs, art deco travel posters and vintage postcards. You can almost smell the salt air.

Review by Michael S. Gant


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