Inside Portmeirion: One man’s extraordinary vision | The Indian Express

Inside Portmeirion: One man’s extraordinary vision

The luxury village resort of Portmeirion was built by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) to showcase how a beautiful natural site could be developed without spoiling it. Which is probably why it took the eccentric architect 20 years to just find the ideal place to make his vision come true.

April 11, 20176:36 pm
Wales The luxury village resort of Portmeirion was built by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) to showcase how a beautiful natural site could be developed without spoiling it. Which is probably why it took the eccentric architect 20 years to just find the ideal place to make his vision come true. All the buildings in Portmeirion are registered historic buildings, and are surrounded by 70 acres of forest gardens called Y Gwllt. The site for this architectural experiment needed to have everything: steep cliffs overlooking a wide sandy estuary, woods, streams and a nucleus of old buildings. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales The property is now owned and run by a the family-owned charity. The name Portmeirion comes from ‘Port’ because it was on the coast and Meirion from the Welsh name for Merionethshire. The previous name Aber la, which translates to ‘frozen river mouth’, didn’t seem auspicious for a holiday resort, which is why Clough decided to rechristen the place. The central piazza shown here was actually an old tennis court that Clough hated. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales The resort is spread over total 120 acres, and has 58 rooms to be given on rent, which include self-catering apartments as well. Clough started on April 2, 1926, with just two buildings, and then took 50 years to build the rest. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales The interesting thing about the village is that it’s almost like a puzzle that not only makes you admire Cloughs genius but also keeps your mind alert so as to be able to appreciate the quirkiness in his designs. From the play of colours to make the village appear old and aged to contrasting architectural styles. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Since Clough was never uber rich, he would often depend on friends and clients to give him old parts and sections of their houses/buildings when they were either being renovated or being torn down. He would never waste the architectural salvage and use them in the most extraordinary way. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales For the onlooker the many styles may seem at odds with each other, but when put in clough’s context, they suddenly start making sense. Here’s he’s used shells and bottle bottoms (a huge rage then) to complement its location next to the estuary. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Clough even had a Breton ketch, the Amis Reunis, which was moored along the quayside of the main hotel building, where the architect and his wife Amabel and their children would often live. Unfortunately this was wrecked by a combination of high tides and strong winds in 1929. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales In fact, Clough did not adopt any single style in his village, which he called ‘architectural mongrel’ but a mixture of styles, to suit his mood. He said it was his ‘light opera approach to architecture’. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales This Tower is actually the only one of his buildings that was not changed from the design blueprint to when it was executed at Portmeirion. Everything else had to undergo multiple tweaks or even complete overhauls. Now, the village has a spa in this area along with service apartments. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Of the many design tricks that Clough has played in the village, of the most oft used is painted windows. In a series of windows, he’d place them in such a way that the onlooker won’t immediately be able to recognise which one’s a fake painted one, and which is real. Can you identify the two here? (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales This statue of Hercules is of particular significance here at Portmeirion since it falls at the centre of a cross that conceptually divides the grounds. At the head/north is the Town Hall, with the famous Hercules ceiling. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales The Unicorn, as this building is called, is very popular for weddings and other similar ceremonies, but the trick here – and this is a deep one – is that Clough designed the front as impressive while the back is a tiny space. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales This domed building, for instance, was placed only because Clough thought that every village must have a dome. Also, this is a particularly interesting building as the front is a classic example of Clough’s architectural salvaging, as the white impressive front is actually an old fireplace from a Tudor mansion that was being torn down. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Portmeirion is also known as ‘a home for fallen buildings’. In the 1930s, Clough heard that the Emral Hall in Flintshire was to be sold. He had wanted the unique 17th century Jacobean plaster ceiling depicting Hercules’ struggles and the astrological signs. So when the hall went under the hammer, Clough bid £13 for the whole ceiling, and walked away with it unopposed. After that he ended up paying hundreds of pounds for the rest of the building, but that’s just incidental. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Here’s another example of Clough playing with dimensions. Can you guess? (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Portmeirion is full of such quirky ‘windows’ and characters, which is what staying here makes for a delightful experience. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales At first glance this is just a village street with café (and this village has several cute eateries and shops), till you notice the very interesting petrol pump. Can you make it out? (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales A view of the village from the top. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Even inside the hotel, there is much attention to detail in the simple decor. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales The food over at Portmeirion is exquisite and world class. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales When one of the gargoyles of a door had broken off, Clough told the artist to make his face into a ghoul and put it up instead. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty) Wales Now, only one building, the Lion, from his original plan is remaining. The current management want to finish it in time for the village’s centenary in 2026. (Photos and text by Shruti Chakraborty)