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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Wiltshire

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Solar Pavilion, Upper Lawn, Wiltshire
© Ian Cartlidge
A "Brutal" experiment in solar power

Harnessing natural sun-power for solar energy has been developed widely in the Mediterranean. But here in the UK, it has had a somewhat patchy history.

One early foray into domestic solar-energy design can be attributed to a property born of the 1950s. And it all happened in the depths of the Wiltshire countryside.

Does your idyll of a country cottage come with roses around the door, thatched roof and a kitchen range?

If it does, "Brutalist" architecture - modernism as pioneered by the influential British architects of the 1950s and 1960s, Alison and Peter Smithson - would not be for you.

But read on.

Solar Pavilion, cobbles
© Bob Clark
"Brutalist" architecture, with its truth to materials, and structure, is a severe form of "modernism" that can be seen in buildings such as the Smithson's Economist Building - London or the controversial Hunstanton School - Norfolk.

The modernist retreat, Solar Pavilion, Upper Lawn in Wiltshire, is equally unique, created as "rough poetry".

The Smithsons designed and built their country haven in an uncompromising style. It is an acquired taste, and one has to have empathy for that style in order to live there at ease. There are no bedrooms in the conventional sense - you sleep on the floor; and the cooking facilities are rudimentary - with a brisket fired barbecue 'Hibachi' stove.

The pleasure of living was not its only purpose. It has extensive glazing, partly as an experiment in solar power.

The Solar Pavilion was their private retreat for almost 20 years - but their experiment in solar heating left them in the cold.

Contemporary rests with the ancient

In its rural setting, near Shaftsbury, the Pavilion looks out in contrast toward William Beckford's ruined Fonthill Abbey.

Solar Pavilion, the aluminium clad walls
© Bob Clark
It rests, in part, on the ruins of an 18th Century cottage, the chimney stack of which still remains as a feature within the austere lines.

The fabric of the building is as stark as the design. Over 70% of the surface structure is glass, with cladding of aluminium, which, slowly over the years, has taken on a patina of grey.

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