Dungeness presents a famously odd landscape: a strange pebbly pancake spread with a shaggy collection of huts, scrappy allotments, a miniature railway, a nuclear power station, a candy-striped lighthouse and, of course, Derek Jarman’s shingled garden. It is one of the most extraordinary contexts in the British landscape, somehow simultaneously providing no context at all and yet also one of the most enigmatic and – in its minimal manner – the richest of all possible backgrounds, a fragile yet ineffably bleak landscape.
For its contribution to Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture series of aspirational guest houses (Icon 089), Glasgow-based architect NORD has come over all vernacular. Its spiky set of shingled gables suits the site well, building on the language of local huts, pygmy versions of Hastings’ more famous fishermens’ net-drying huts which create the charred beachside Manhattan that is currently being marred by the Jerwood Arts Centre.
The shed shapes allow the architects to carefully articulate the changes in the plan and to meticulously mould the space inside with a series of double pitches, giving each room a carefully tailored volume. This newest bit of Living Architecture adds to the noticeable contemporary trend towards “house-shaped” houses, a seeming residue of postmodernism which reaches back to Aldo Rossi’s aggrandised beach huts via early Herzog & de Meuron and right up to Sou Fujimoto’s ethereal, almost ghostly, structures (of which this looks like a slightly sinister and compelling shadow). This kind of irregular gabled profile, it seems, has become a kind of acceptable nod to the vernacular within a recognised language of modernism – both MVRDV in their extruded Monopoly house (the Balancing Barn) and Norwegians JVA (Dune House) have used arguably similar forms. Living Architecture aims to promote modernism just as the Landmark Trust promotes heritage, but there still remains, apparently, a deep need to make things look housey. Good thing too – this one looks the best so far.