Morrow + Lorraine carves luxury holiday villas into Dorset’s Jurassic Coast


At the Clifftops development by Morrow + Lorraine, rugged Portland stone walls are used to frame five holiday homes and meld them with the UNESCO-protected Isle of Portland coastline. Their half-buried forms, with two levels stepped into the cliff, are designed to minimise their visual impact on the the Grade II-listed Pennsylvania Castle that stands above.

The stonework extends out and tapers towards the cliff edge, creating a tumble down effect and defining a private terrace for each rental home. Huge windows set within copper frames form the frontage for the homes and are rotated 3 degrees from the next to minimise distracting reflections for boats at sea.


“Taken in tandem with the extreme sensitivity of the setting, a clear design concept emerged: conceptually, the building should appear hewn from the ground, rather than built upon it,” says Morrow + Lorraine, a London-based practice founded by J-J Lorraine and Julian Morrow. “As such, the lodges are set into the rugged cliff, with large, rough-cleaved blocks of local Portland stone, creating a rapport with the surrounding tumbling cliffs.”

“The arrangement of these walls, perpendicular to the coastline, was inspired by groin (sea defence) walls on a beach, with the copper, glass and living roofs of the building spanning between them,” adds Lorraine. “Extending these walls beyond the front of the building provides privacy to the external terraces between each lodge, and they break down in scale to echo the craggy stone surroundings.”


One of the most complex technical challenges of the project was dealing with the precarious positioning of the holiday homes on an eroding coastal site. “The site is located directly above the historic Great Southwell Landslip, Britain’s second largest recorded landslide,” explained the practice. “A large section of the cliff edge had been buttressed previously with huge boulders and a significant crack or fissure could be seen in the ground, running across the front of the site.”

Geotechnical consultants Red Rock Geo where brought on board to monitor the site for a year and a half and found the land was slowly separating along the fissure line. The practice made use of eight ground anchor piles to stitch the site back to solid bedrock, while 64 rotary Odex piles offer support for the foundations and minimise vibration.

The roofs of the villas also double as a terrace, with the view that weddings and events held at Pennsylvania Castle can spill down from the grounds onto this vantage point. The loadings required for these gatherings posed another set of technical issues, with roof coverings needing to cope also with high wind uplift. Mechanical fastenings therefore secure the insulation to the roof deck rather than relying on ballast.

Inside, the stonework is refined to reveal its delicate strata and paired with oak joinery and panelling that lends a warmth to the crisp lines of the living spaces. Abundant glazing floods the interior with natural light and ensure each room its own sea view.

“This was a fascinating place to work. The design carried the responsibility of highly-technical requirements to ensure the stability and safety of this dramatic and ancient site. Meanwhile giving quiet, reflective moments of architecture that we hope bring joy and pleasure to the guests. It’s a rare opportunity,” says Lorraine.

Additional images and plans