9 of Suffolk’s most unique structures
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Suffolk is home to some fascinating, interesting and quirky pieces of architecture. Here’s 9 examples of some of the most eye-popping architectural wonders across the county.
Also known as The House in the Car Park, Aldeburgh’s Fantasia is one of Suffolk’s most interesting buildings. Affectionately dubbed ‘the doll’s house of Aldeburgh’ by journalist Janice Turner in a 2014 article for The Times, this detached cottage is only 8-foot wide. It does however have a double bedroom, shower room, kitchen, sitting and dining area, balcony and courtyard garden.
While not a great deal is known about the tiny structure’s history, it has been described as ‘late 19th century’ in a June 2013 draft conservation area appraisal. In handwritten notes obtained by the Aldeburgh Museum, Marcel Taylor wrote in 1981 that Fantasia had been used as a small hut selling fishing tackle, a small dairy, and later a gentleman’s hairdressing salon.
The Balancing Barn, Thorington
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One of Suffolk’s zanier structures, The Balancing Barn is another example of Dutch architecture that has made its way over to the county. Designed by Rotterdam-based architecture firm MVRDV, this 30-metre-long house is located just a few miles away from the coast, and is surrounded by six acres of private gardens.
Clad in reflective steel tiles, The Balancing Barn almost looks otherworldly as it gives the illusion of ‘hanging’ over the hill, like some sort of vessel that crash landed from space. Inside of the barn, there are four en-suite bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room and living room. Also, suspended underneath the cantilevered structure is a swing.
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The House in the Clouds, Thorpeness
You’d be forgiven for thinking this captivating structure has been pulled straight out of a fairytale book, but it is in fact a real building – and it’s right here in Suffolk. The aptly-named The House in the Clouds is a 70-foot water tower that has since been converted into a fully functional home.
Built in 1923, the house was constructed by Glencairne Stuart Ogilvie, F. Forbes Glennie and H. G Keep in order to disguise an unsightly water tower that wasn’t in keeping with the rest of the town’s mock-Tudor and Jacobean architecture. However, in 1979, the water tank was removed – and to this day, the house currently has five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a drawing room, and the ‘room at the top’ which provides some stunning views of the Suffolk countryside and coast.
Crinkle crankle walls, various locations
Also known as serpentine walls, crinkle crankle walls are a staple of East Anglian architecture. Their unique design comprises of alternating curves that provide more stability and strength than straight walls, as they do not needed buttresses. It is believed that crinkle crankle walls first came to the region in the 16th century by way of Dutch engineers who helped drain The Fens. They called them slagenmuur – which translates to ‘snake wall’.
The walls soon grew in popularity, and by the 18th century, crinkle crankles were used to grow fruit on them. And while they didn’t originate in Suffolk, the county can proudly boast double the amount of crinkle crankle walls than anywhere else in the UK, with around 50 found throughout the county. They’re so quirky and iconic that former US president Thomas Jefferson had crinkle crankle walls built at the University of Virginia, which he founded in 1819.
Cockfield Windmill, Cockfield
Suffolk boasts a number of windmills across the country – but did you know there’s one you can stay in? Cockfield Windmill near Bury St Edmunds is a converted windmill that sleeps four, with a totally modern interior.
Believed to have been the last windmill erected in Suffolk, it was constructed in 1891 to replace Pepper Mill which had previously sat on the site. By 1900, the mill was no longer in working condition.
In 2008, current owners Steve and Natalie Rogers took on the two-year task of turning the windmill into a functional home – with some impressive results. So impressive that the windmill has been nominated for and won a number of awards, including winning a National UK Roofing Award in 2016 for its eye-catching elliptical-shaped zinc roof, and making the RIBA East Awards 2017 shortlist.
Moot Hall, Aldeburgh
Just a stone’s throw away from Fantasia is another architectural wonder on Aldeburgh’s seafront – the historic Moot Hall.
While there’s no evidence to pinpoint this building’s exact construction, experts assume it must have been built sometime during the first half of the 16th century due to its style. However, the name ‘Moot Hall’ was only used from the 19th century, as the building was restored by the Victorians. Documents from before that time reveal that it was referred to as the ‘Town Hall’.
To this day, it remains one of Britain’s most well-preserved Tudor buildings – particularly impressive due to its coastal location and the fact it’s a standalone structure. Currently, it is the home of Aldeburgh Museum, and houses a number of exhibits from the Anglo-Saxon and medieval eras.
Willis Building, Ipswich
The newest building on this list, Ipswich’s Willis Building is one of the county’s most modern and striking structures. Located in the centre of the town, this office was designed by Norman Foster and Wendy Cheesman and constructed between 1970 and 1975.
Open plan and spread over three floors, it’s one of Ipswich’s most iconic landmarks and is best known for its exterior, which has been clad in dark, reflective smoked glass. Its lack of right-angle corners draws inspiration from Manchester’s Daily Express Building, one of Foster’s favourite works of architecture. In 1991, the Willis Building was awarded Grade I-listed status.
Martello Tower Y, Bawdsey
A number of martello towers can be found dotted along Suffolk’s coastlines – but one of the most impressive ones has to be Martello Tower Y. Built in the 19th century, this Bawdsey-based tower is located on a quiet and tranquil stretch of the Suffolk coast, overlooking the North Sea to its east and vast farmland to its west.
Martello Tower Y - also known as Found Tower - was intended to defend against any potential invasions via sea. In 2010, architect Stuart Piercy, alongside designer Duncan Jackson, oversaw the conversion of the tower’s interior – winning the RIBA Award of 2010. It features an entrance hall, living room, separate living area, curved kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two study spaces and outdoor terrace.
Lavenham Guildhall, Lavenham
Just shy of being 500 years old, Lavenham’s Guildhall is a 16th century grey and white timber framed building that has most certainly stood the test of time. Located on Market Lane and built in 1530 by the Guild of Corpus Christi, it was the meeting place for this religious group of local merchants until their dissolution a few decades later.
Throughout the years, Lavenham Guildhall has served a number of different purposes, including as a jail in 1689, a workhouse in 1787, and a restaurant and nursery during the Second World War. Since 1951, it has been under the care of the National Trust, and is currently a museum.
And of course, this isn’t the only ancient structure that still stands in the town today – as Lavenham is home to over 320 buildings of historical significance according to the National Trust. There’s also Lavenham Priory, Lavenham Wool Hall and Little Hall.
What is your favourite example of quirky Suffolk architecture? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to share yours.