Isle of Portland, Dorset

The Clifftops project comprises five holiday lodges located between two listed castles, and sits directly above a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Clifftops, on the Isle of Portland, presented the opportunity for a very special architectural response to a unique site.  The brief was to create five holiday lodges on a spectacular cliff edge setting in the grounds of an historic estate with several designated heritage assets.  The site also sits directly above a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  The new lodges replace six static caravans and form additional residential accommodation for Pennsylvania Castle, an exclusive wedding venue and retreat in a fantastic location on the UNESCO World Heritage Coastline. Penn Castle is Listed Grade II while adjacent Bow & Arrow Castle is a scheduled ancient monument.  The lodges are designed to maximise views out across the English Channel, whilst providing through their palette of materials a  contextual aesthetic to complement the rugged landscape of this highly sensitive site.

Responding to this very special context, our design concept was that the building should appear hewn from the ground, rather than built upon it. As such, the lodges are set into the rugged cliff, their outline defined by large, rough-cleaved blocks of local Portland’s Albion stone. Indigenous to Portland, the stone was the natural choice; cut only minutes away from the Pennsylvania Estate, it anchors the architecture to its locale, yields a low carbon footprint and is long lasting. Cutting into the slope allows the grounds of the castle to flow over the top of the new building and reduces its visual impact in views from the main building. Access to the lodges is provided via a cavern-like, scooped-out pathway; here the architecture is solid but controlled, in deference to the castle grounds.

Modest entrances open to light-filled interiors with expansive sea views. The stone walls dividing each lodge from the next evoke groynes on a beach, rotating 3 degrees in plan at each interval. This means that each of the large vitrines fronting the lodges is set at a different angle to the next, reducing the effect of reflections that might distract boats out at sea (a planning condition) while maximising views for occupants.

Towards the craggy cliff edge the architecture and landscaping becomes informal and irregular, with coastal wildflower planting blending with the natural coastal flora. Protected trees surround the cliff edge, with root protection zones extending into the site. This created design challenges when balancing the best choices for the lodges on the sheer cliff edge, and informed the layout.

Unfinished natural copper was used alongside the Portland stone exterior, intended to patinate over time, further helping the building to blend with its surroundings. The rough-cleaved stone treatment runs from exterior to interior, where smooth cut surfaces reveal the strata of the beds of stone as if they were still in the ground. Ancient fossils, for which the Jurassic Coast is famous, can be seen within the walls.

Oak joinery and wall panelling add warmth to the rugged aesthetic. The joinery frames are carefully detailed to minimise interruption of flow between the interior and exterior. Fully fitted kitchens and modern living spaces include high-quality fixtures and furnishings, handpicked for each lodge to create subtle variations and interest within the overall design theme.

Photographs | Sally Morrow | Jim Stephenson



Isle of Portland, Dorset


Colonial Leisure Limited


Leisure, Residential