Between nuclear and shingle: Dungeness's surprising architecture
Dungeness is an otherworldly place next to a UK nuclear power station. Architects and designers have turned old structures into radical, elegant homes. FT’s Helen Barrett discovers some striking modern architecture, reflecting a bleak yet vibrant landscape
Produced by Alpha Grid
You can enable subtitles (captions) in the video player
Whenever I want to escape from London I find myself drawn to Dungeness. It's a strange sort of a sanctuary but I've been coming here for 20 years and I find myself pulled back time and time again. Dungeness is about 60 miles from London, on the Kent coast. Set largely on a massive shingle beach, it's a low lying conservation area that only gets around 25ins of rainfall a year.
The shapes of everything, so much more prominent and distinct, because the sky is so big. Dungeness is littered with abandoned structures, but in recent years architects and designers have experimented with ways to turn some of them into radical, elegant homes. Hello.
Hello, Fiona. Today interior architect Fiona Naylor is showing me three of her five projects here, starting with an ex-coastguard station she's converted into a holiday home for visitors.
Oh, goodness. It's wild out there today, and it's incredibly calm and quiet in here.
It was a very conscious thing to make it a sanctuary.
A strong link between building and surroundings is a recurring theme in Fiona's Dungeness designs.
So all the buildings that I've done I really want you to feel like you can connect to the landscape.
But it's when you venture outside that you truly get to appreciate the surroundings and their role in the building's design.
You are effectively in the sea here. We are on a headland that projects out into the channel. This building, when I was designing it, it is like designing a ship. Ordinary stainless steel just rusts in a week in this place. So you have to bear in mind the materials you use, and the way you deal with the building.
It feels like we could get blown off the balcony at any moment so it's a good time to move on. We're actually heading towards Fiona's second home, but on the way we can stop off it her most recent project, an old site designed to test radar technology that she finished at the start of this year.
I mean, the idea behind these windows when we were designing is to try to make a painting, effectively.
A neutral colour palette, minimalist interiors and other understated touches all make a subtle connection between the compact interior and exterior landscape.
What I want to do was... so this door disappears completely and creates another room out here. So the roof over-sails, and then you got the sleepers, here so you can sit outside or eat outside. But you're sort of protected top and bottom. And you've got the sentinels of the posts protecting you.
Our final stop on my architectural tour, Fiona's Dungeness getaway, is called Experimental Station. A former government research facility dating back to world war two that was used to test marine and signal apparatus. Wow. So this is your home?
Yes, this is where I hang out when I'm in Dungeness.
So what was it like when you first arrived?
It was a complete wreck, but we kept the brickwork externally. It's an industrial building, so keeping that appearance externally was really important for me.
For Fiona, respecting the past lives of her projects is also what makes her work stand out.
Because of this place and what it is and its industrial history, to bring that to play in terms of the factors that inform the design has to make it a richer, and a better response.
So obviously this is your home, and then you have a structure there, there, there. You're surrounding yourself with your developments.
For me it's like a personal creative process. So I don't see those developments. It's much more about my journey in taking this building and turning it into something.
Dungeness is an unlikely spot to visit, but this trip has given me a real appreciation of the architectural creativity that's been used to revive some of the structures here. And most crucially, in a way that reflects the personality and the character of the stripped back yet vibrant landscape that surrounds them.