Martello Tower Y is one of 103 ingeniously-designed artillery towers, built from 1805 at vulnerable points around the south and east coasts to resist Napoleonic invasion. It presents perhaps the ultimate challenge to the housing architect and the issues raised are manifold.
Firstly bureaucratic: how to deal with a noted ancient monument, especially one that is on the ‘at-risk’ register and is in an area of outstanding natural beauty; what is more how to capture the magnificent views from the rooftop platform when heritage advisors insist it should not be completely enclosed and that any enclosure should be all-but invisible from the ground.
Secondly there is the tricky matter of how to introduce services into a structure with 12 foot thick walls in a way that is elegant and does not compromise what is inevitably a series of tight spaces. Finally there is the circular configuration: how to design in a way that sees the shape as an advantage not hindrance to creativity.
The architects’ sensitive response is typified by the beauty of the exposed domed brickwork and the elegance of the indoor-outdoor roof terrace which is oversailed but not enclosed.
In line with best conservation practice, the history of the building has been preserved – details of the gun emplacements co-exist with the barbecue apparatus.
The lightweight steel structure is lit by clerestory windows and rooflights and flagged with stone and kitchen, dining and living accommodation in a light and spacious way that contrasts with the cell-like atmosphere of the bedrooms at ground floor level – which, given that no openings could be cut into the structure, are lit only by light-tubes and by daylight borrowed by cutting away part of the entrance level floor above. This secondary living area features the magnificent, kiln-like brick vaulting that gives the project its poetic quality.