Standing atop one of the most dramatic coastlines in the country, with a fascinating history and full planning permission to develop it into a visionary and architecturally important building, Gin Head was the very definition of unique. Just 30 miles from cosmopolitan Edinburgh in East Berwick, Gin Head sat on a wild cliff-edge promontory jutting out into the North Sea and presented a thrilling array of development possibilities.
Set within five acres of flora and fauna in the astonishing East Lothian landscape, Gin Head’s sweeping vista was uninterrupted by roads or buildings, bar its nearest neighbour. The magnificent ruins of 14th century Tantallon Castle, stronghold of the Earls of Angus, perched on the cliff top to the east of Gin Head just 300 metres away.
Looking north, the barnacled hulk of Bass Rock rose out from the Firth of Forth like a brooding monument, 1.4 miles from the shore. A World Nature Reserve, the uninhabited island is home more than 150,000 gannets, the largest Northern gannet colony on Earth – another manifestation of Gin Head’s sense of magnitude.
Inland, the spectacular views continued with North Berwick Law, an extinct volcano rising 187 metres above sea level and famous for its huge whale’s jawbone, which stood on the site from 1709 until a replica was installed in 2008. The effect of this triumvirate of astonishing landmarks together with ever changing light and theatrical weather patterns made for a staggering sensory experience.
Originally founded in 1943 as a top-secret Admiralty signals base, Gin Head played a decisive role in the outcome of WWII as the location for developing radar for the Royal Navy, especially in the months leading up to the Allied Invasion of France. The deception and jamming operations tested there deceived the German High Command into thinking that the British forces would arrive in France at Calais, rather than Normandy – key to the success of the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944.
Decommissioned in the 1950s, Gin Head served as a scientific research base until the ‘90s and since then it has lain in wait, like a Bond villain’s lair – until now. The world-class practice Lazzarini Pickering Architetti were selected to develop architecturally explicit plans to create an iconic, visionary living space which was granted full planning permission. “In keeping with the siege and combat history of its location, we’re designing a modern fortress,” said the firm.
Surrounded 240 degrees by the sea, the design is a seamless integration of building and landscape, using vast sheets of glass for total visual immersion in the elements. The architects’ proposal turned the existing buildings into a ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ villa, with magnificent reception rooms, expansive staircases, room for an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a cinema and myriad bedrooms within its staggering 26,000 sq. ft of living space. Yet in spite of its striking modernity, the design referenced the tradition of the English Country House, with a grand entrance onto the courtyard, followed by a precision of places and rooms for a relaxed way of living.