Listening Station & The Watch Tower, Shingle Clad Portable Holiday Lets, Southwold, Suffolk

These shingle clad holiday lets are located with stunning views over the Southwold Cliffs.

The project has been awarded The East of Suffolk Quality of Place Design Awards 2019 and the Galvanising Association Sustainability Award 2019. It was also shortlisted by the RICS Innovation in Design category 2019.

The project comprises demolition of a derelict Royal Navy listening station that was at risk of falling into the sea from coastal erosion. Its replacement sees the construction of 2 no. new build portable low energy holiday homes which have panoramic views across the North Sea from the fast eroding cliff top. These can simply be disconnected and craned onto a vehicle and moved inland an appropriate distance. This is portable architecture that adapts to coastal change whilst diversifying farm income.

The buildings can be moved as the coast retreats and thus react to climate change. The steel frame supports a timber shell with crane points built in at either end that allows relocation when necessary as cliff erosion occurs. The width and length is designed to suit an articulated lorry size allowing for simplicity in moving. The foundations were designed as minimal pads on a grid ensuring the holiday homes touch the site lightly and it can be restored with the minimal of effort. This innovative approach to design and usage allows for a redevelopment in a location that otherwise would not be allowed due to coastal change as well as minimal impact in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  All services such as sewage treatment are placed 100m away inland to allow for this coastal retreat.


The design creates two gabled fully portable buildings that mimic the original dual gables of the RN building they replace. They are designed to sit low with a horizontal emphasis within the flat landscape. The monolithic appearance was deliberate to avoid detail within this plain simple landscape and the cedar shingles are used to soften and weather to blend the buildings into the natural landscape as oppose to metal or brick.  The natural wood weathers to a silver grey seen in sky and sea of this location. The buildings have large windows to this windswept landscape so as to place the occupier right within this coastal area of outstanding natural scenery to fully appreciate its beauty. The design is very low maintenance. No gutters or downpipes, no decorating externally, no mortar or cement to crack etc. They are allowed to weather naturally.


The buildings materials are recyclable with aluminium and wood windows, steel and timber frame and being plaster free. The components can be taken away and used in other projects. The wood shingles can be chipped for landscaping at the end of their useful life. The building is wrapped in a thick insulation and with low U value windows it minimises heating costs and thus its carbon footprint.


Southwold is a tourist town and its economy relies largely on tourism. This scheme rather than competing with the cottages and apartments on offer in the town offers something new in that it is a pair of portable buildings on the cliff top of contemporary architectural design and provides a landmark destination.

Its unique design and location has acted as a catalyst by showing what can be achieved with buildings at risk of coastal change, which applies to many others locally along this shoreline that are currently simply abandoned. The local council have been very supportive and a phase 2 scheme for other buildings for the landowner is being advanced at present due to the success of this first redevelopment.


In summary this is a unique solution to coastal change, self funding the removal of derelict buildings, providing a diversified farm income and enhancing the local tourist offer with something contemporary and entirely new in location and concept. As the coast erodes the building can retreat with minimal effort and as such allows for climate change and sits in harmony with it. At the same time this was all achieved for a minimal budget and is now producing a high return and increasing visitor numbers to this area of coast.





Southwold, Suffolk