House in Pembrokeshire (Wales), by Future Systems

A member of the British Parliament and millionaire, Bob Marshall-Andrews had spent his vacations in an old timber army barrack for twenty-five years. Undoubtedly, the value of this shelter lay in its location. It stood on a cliff in a National Park, on the coast of southwest Wales. It was an idyllic place and highly protected, which meant that building licences had in general not be given to the people who lived there. Any alterations, even including extending people’s houses with a delicate glass structures, were prohibited.
Despite these conditions, and being conscious of possible accusations of favouritism, the Member of Parliament contacted the architectural office, Future Systems, with the intention of substituting the old barrack with a house where he could live when he retired. It was an essential requirement of the commission to achieve a legal project at all costs.

National Park in Pembrokeshire
The land on Druidston cliff overlooking St Bride’s Bay, which the Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews and his wife Gill owned, was only one hundred and fifty metres from the sea. This spectacular site was situated in one of the most beautiful National Parks in England and Wales, dating back to 1949. The Park covers almost 300 km of coastline characterized by great diversity of high cliffs and long, open beaches, protected bays, marshes and dunes. The park boasts a coastal footpath that allows the visitors to cross it completely while observing several protected offshore islands. Among them one can see Skomer, Skokholm, Ramsey, Grasholm and Caldey, all internationally known for their seabird and seal populations.
Mr and Mrs Marshall-Andrews had bought the land many years ago. An old army barrack stood on it, which had been used as a shelter in the past but the couple had used it to spend their vacations with their two children. As the barrack was deteriorating, the couple decided to approach Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete, the founding architects of Future Systems, for their new holiday house.

An Invisible House
The severe regulations operating in the National Park against any kind of construction had led the neighbours to believe that any action in this landscape would prove impossible. Knowing this, the architects were faced with designing a house that would lie discretely on the ground without drawing attention from the main attractions: nature and wildlife. This would serve as the proving point to obtain building permission.
As a way of preventing the risk of receiving an unfavourable decision from the local authorities, the architects designed a house that could not be rejected on the grounds that it impinged on the landscape. Their solution lay in building downwards and thus reinforce the relationship with the surroundings. It was a idea that recalls old traditional building methods in Northern Scandinavia where the wide walls were built of overlapping layers of soil and turf, a technique that bound the soil to the roots, worked as a thermal insulation and completed the camouflage with the land.
The architects responded to these conditions by creating a house that was hardly visible in the landscape. From afar, the house adopts the form of a hillock with big glazed panels opening towards the sea. Firstly, Kaplicky and Levete excavated the site. They constructed a concrete slab and a retaining wall on which a stressed-skin plywood aerofoil roof was laid, completed with membrane and turf planting. The structure consisted of steel beams that supported the roof and eliminated the need for internal columns.
Due to the narrowness of the road, big trucks could not approach the site, only standard trucks. Drawing upon their experience in using sophisticated technology, Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete considered it would be the least harmful to the delicate nature of the site if they could prefabricate the house in small units and bring them to the site ready to be arranged. Many elements were therefore prepared and constructed before reaching the site like the two bathroom pods, which were intended to screen the central living area from the bedrooms. These spray-painted timber structures, of which one also incorporated kitchen facilities, were freestanding without touching the ceiling in order to emphasize the light, bright space.
The ground plan of the house is very simple and with an ease that reflects the lifestyle of its inhabitants, focusing on the living room around a central chimney with views towards the horizon. It is an interior of organic curves, which emerge as a continuation of the surrounding nature. In the interior one enjoys a single space with only the prefabricated units separating the bedrooms from the day area. A big central sofa is built fixed in the living room so one has a constant relationship with nature, with the birds by the cliffs, with the changing light and colour of the sea.
Outside, the passer-by enjoys the scenery on the walk along the path laid by the authorities of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and confuses this holiday house with nature itself, a hillock covered with grass where the surrounding landscape remains untouched with no visible boundary lines or designated garden area. The transparent glass wall, outlined only by a slim stainless steel trim acts as an extension of the inhabitant himself; it is like an eye that looks out to sea and life itself.
For the planning authorities, it would have been difficult to find arguments against planning permission for this house. From an aerial photo, this holiday house goes unnoticed in the landscape with the passing of time, just like the army shelter that had once inhabited the place.

Photographs: Future Systems
Captions for illustrations:
a. Jan Kaplicky (1937) and Amanda Levete (1955), founding architects of the architecture office Future Systems.
b. The house in Wales (1994-96) responds to the place and received an immediate approval from the local architects.
c. The entire house has a biological character, demonstrated equally in its structure, with the steel beam in the form of a ring, as in the laminated roof with an aerodynamic form.
d. The architects responded to the request with a house that was barely visible in the landscape.
e. The ground floor plan of the dwelling is very simple and with an ease that reflects the lifestyle of its inhabitants; a living room around a central chimney and views on to the horizon.
f. The glass front is like an additional eye that looks on to the sea and at life.
g+h+i. With the passing of time, the grass has managed to cover the building as if it were a bunker in the time of a war or a Romantic ruin.