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Architect makes plea to save La Frégate

Architect makes plea to save La Frégate

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Architect makes plea to save La Frégate

Wednesday 23 June 2021

The local architect who helped design La Frégate has made a plea for the building to be preserved after developers suggested scrapping it as part of plans to revamp the Waterfront.

Derek Mason from Mason Design Partnership worked with acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop of Alsop and Stormer on the iconic café.

Mr Mason was part of the Waterfront Enterprise Board when he was asked by the then-Chief Minister, Frank Walker, what he knew about waterfronts. While he admitted he didn’t know much, Mr Mason said he would find out what he could. 

More familiar with housing developments – he designed Berkshire and Liberation Courts, as well as the Standard Bank building and Jersey Arts Centre – the project was the first café for Mr Mason. It was also the first building to be built on the Waterfront.

As he was friends with Mr Alsop, who he described as a "genius", he suggested they worked together on the project.


Pictured: A postcard featuring the café.

But, while many would describe it as an upturned boat, this is not what the pair envisaged. The building was meant to look like a large fish or a whale with the seating outside representing little fish. 

Mr Mason – now 75 - said the building was designed to last at least 70 years and has not experienced any leaks in 25 years.

“It’s completely waterproof,” he said. “I spent a lot of time on the roof - nobody could design the roof except me.”

Mr Mason said he first had suspicions about the building’s future following a public meeting on the masterplan for the Southwest waterfront area. 

“I could see there was no café on the sketches. I asked [Jersey Development Company Chief Executive] Lee Henry in public, ‘Are you going to demolish La Frégate? Because it’s very important to me.’ He said it was only sketched drawings.”

Following queries from Express, JDC confirmed the plans did not feature La Frégate Café because it would have to go, apparently due to flooding risks.

A spokesperson said JDC had carried out a flood risk impact assessment on the section of coastline around the West Park slip and café area as part of the Waterfront design process.

Following this, the developer concluded that the seawall needs to be raised by 1.2m to “future-proof" the area and avoid potential flooding, with ground levels also increased by 1.2m to maintain views over the seawall.

Meanwhile, the West Park slipway will be relocated further to the west. 

“Given these significant changes, particularly West Park’s revised ground levels, it will not be practically feasible to retain La Frégate Café and it is proposed that it will be removed as part of the area’s redevelopment which will include significant enhancements to the Western Gateway to St. Helier,” the spokesperson said.

The architect rejected the suggestion of the building’s demolition as “ridiculous”.

“This should stay there, it does not interfere with the Master Plan,” he said.  “In the daytime it’s a café, in the evening it’s a restaurant, which is great. When Will and I designed it, we designed it as a destination. People use it - when they go on walks, they start by the café and they finish there, it’s really important.”

“Those people are all from UK, big world class firms, they do not understand.”

Pictured: The café turns into a Thai restaurant at night.

Mr Mason also explained the building could not be demolished and rebuilt somewhere else due to the extra precautions taken a result of the presence of toxic waste in the area when it was built.

“The underground test we did was so bad that we put a metre of thick of concrete under the café,” he said.

“It cost £625,000 to build it, now it would cost £1m. Why build it new if you’ve already got it? There was a big controversy when it was built, but it’s very important for Jersey. They must not knock it down.”

Mr Mason also called for Fort Regent’s Listed roof to be retained after the Government revealed it would have to be removed as part of major refurbishment plans

The roof is protected and features on the island's historic buildings register because it was a “major technological feat of its time”, without computers to help design the unique wave and dome structure. When it was completed in 1974, it was also the “largest roof of its type in western Europe at the time”.


Pictured: Completed in 1974, Fort Regent's roof was the “largest... of its type in western Europe at the time”. (Jersey Heritage)

“The Fort Regent dome is very special,” Mr Mason said. “When you fly into Jersey, that’s what you see.

"They must not take it down."

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Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

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Posted by Bona Togs on
Personally I didn't think this building is anything special from day one. I wouldn't miss at all if removing it meant improving the Waterfront area... which is a bit of a white elephant.
Posted by Martin on
It looks to me - like a shoe box left out in the rain - but not all is lost - it could go to the proposed new skate board park as it must be good as a ramp or some sort of angled stunt thing?
Posted by nigel pearce on
It should have been situated on that area west of the public toilets at West Park.
It is also set too low down so that you only get a view of the sea wall when seated, rather than a sea view.
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