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El Ray by Simon Conder Associates, Dungeness Beach, Kent, UK

[COMMENDATION AR HOUSE 2010] Simon Conder Associates reconfigure a railcar carcass as a sculptural piece within an open plan living space. Photography Paul Smoothy and Chris Gascoigne

Before cheap air travel gifted the English the opportunity to sunburn in more scorching climes, a tradition existed of holidaying on the country’s own beaches, in defiance of the summer rain. In that lost national spirit of making do, families created beach shelters for themselves, often erected from salvaged structures.

And while Blackpool and Brighton had greater attractions (piers for a start) Dungeness was, up to a point, a popular destination - despite being shadowed by a nuclear power station from 1965. Designed by Simon Conder Associates, El Ray has emerged from a particularly characterful example of these bygone retreats.

On Dungeness’ shingle beach, the architect inherited a shack-like hut that had grown around a 19th-century railway carriage, a recovered artefact forbidden by planners from removal. Furthermore, it was demanded that any new build resemble its neighbours, with sympathetic materials and pitched roofs.

However, Conder hasn’t let these restrictions restrain him, creatively turning them to his advantage. Treating the railcar carcass as an objet trouvé, he set it as a sculptural piece within the open-plan living space. Scrubbed clean but retaining its faded paintwork, it has been inventively refitted as a modern kitchen.

To resolve the pitched roof, the architect employed a 2° gradient. This caused acute irritation at the planning department, but was later unanimously approved by the adjudicating resident committee. A symmetrical bell-shaped plan is read externally as a curving, timber-clad envelope reminiscent of countless coastal vernacular dwellings.

Inside, at its rounded end, it shelters a pair of bedrooms, set apart from the living space by twin courtyards that act as suntraps at different times of the day. The mouth of the bell contains the social space, and is closed with a sliding glazed wall that embraces the windswept stony foreground and the bluish blurring of sea into sky beyond.

Architect Simon Conder Associates, London, UK
Project team Simon Conder, Pippa Smith
Structural engineer Fluid Structures

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Really nice concept, although when looking at the images, somewhat surprising to learn it's in Kent. Still, nice design and the sort of project we need more of in blighty. I'm off to have a look at Mr Conder's website!

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