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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sand Castle Magic: Carmel's 58th Annual Competition

At the dawn on the 1960s, the Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects held a competition for designing and building sand castles on the beach in Carmel.  It was free and open to people of all ages.  It still is, and this year's event was the 58th annual session on the beach.   There's always a theme, and this year it was "Rooms in the Dunes."


To get started, contestants trudge down the one of several stairways leading from Scenic Avenue to the white sandy expanse between the iceplant-covered dunes and the endless lapping of the surf.  Contestants usually arrive early in the morning, and it was foggy and cool at 7:30, when many of them started their work. This year's contest was held on Saturday, September 8.  While the contest is always held at this general time of year and proceeds rain or shine, some allowances are made for predicted tides, and this year's date was selected to avoid washouts. Rules stipulate that only items found at the beach can be incorporated into the construction. Tools such as shovels and buckets can be brought from the outside world.  Items which can be easily found include twigs, shells, kelp, and rocks...


Kelp was employed by this team of adults and kids to form numbers on their race cars, and the theme was gently warped into "Vrooms at the Dunes."  As Monterey Car Week had ended only a couple weeks before, there were still echoes of Car Week events here... 


Including this sculpture of a split-window Volkswagen Beetle which has been uprated with alloy wheels from a Porsche...


Not sure how the Beetle fit into this year's theme, except that it had finally found a parking space, never easy in Carmel, a sort of room at the dunes.  In any case, among the many awards given was one for "Best Bribe."  I was shocked, absolutely shocked, that the VW team was able to secure that prize with offers of beer, fried chicken and waffles, potato salad, parfait desserts and chocolate chasers.


A generously-scaled effort which drew a crowd, "Runes in the Dunes" featured a runic inscription and a dragon. The source of this work was a misunderstanding.  The artist thought he'd heard "runes" instead of "rooms"  on a recorded message.  No matter; the work added to the variety and flavor of forms on the beach.


This effort emphasized the dunes rather than the oceanic aspect, with a camel nosing up to the nomad's tent.  By the time the judging began at noon (it ran until two), the sun had burst forth and warmed the participants, some of whom were still at work as the judges pursued their deliberations...


Criteria for judging the castles included the first impression or "wow factor", originality of concept, artistic approaches to form, flow and visual balance, technical difficulty, and the quality of carving.


The popular "Otter's Den" shown above and below formed a people-scaled room at the edge of the surf, and had to be repaired after judges sat on the furniture, which after all, was just made of sand.  It featured carved "stone" battlements, a bas relief facing the ocean, and a top-hatted otter seated on a lounge.  It won this year's Golden Shovel award, First Prize.


The artist who created the richly imagined and tidily executed townscape sculpture below did so with the aid of his two daughters.  It was thus eligible for works created with the help of children, and won in its class.


In the first century BC, the Roman architect Vitruvius identified the characteristics of good architecture as "firmness, commodity and delight."   This modestly-sized, adventuresome, exuberant work certainly has those features.


The work below was entitled "It Takes a Village".  It too, evoked a townscape of turrets, rambling stairways and spires.  As with the work shown above, it substituted complexity for size.


And the name was a reminder that with twenty teams working on Carmel Beach, there was a village full of artists, visionaries and comedians at work.  It took a lot of individuals working together to make the day a success.  And a whole lot of sand...


Photo Credit + Acknowledgements:   All photos are by the author, who wants to thank Alfred Seccombe of Northstar Construction and the Monterey Bay Chapter of the AIA for inviting him to be on the panel of judges for the event.