Corstorphine & Wright converts Second World War bunker into holiday home

Once part of the Chain Home radar system during the war, the bunker, along with a perimeter of aerial arrays dotted along the English coast, was designed to detect incoming enemy aircraft and signal their position. RAF Ringstead was one of those stations, playing a key role in winning the Battle of Britain.

The now Grade II-listed building is located on a working dairy farm within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, after discovering a series of these abandoned subterranean bunkers on their land, the client commissioned Lipton Plant Architects to convert one into a holiday let, with the scheme moving to Corstorphine & Wright following a merger at the start of this year.

The design for the bunker is rooted in its history and retains as much of the original fabric and ‘feel’ of the space as possible. The entrance remains as it was while a glazed ‘bomb blast’ opening allows natural light into the space and provides views across Ringstead Bay.

This and slightly enlarged rooflights are the only external changes to the structure with the bunker remaining submerged in the landscape as originally intended. Internally, the concrete walls have been left exposed and the historical layout of the bunker has been mainly left untouched.

The bunker was listed during the planning process, meaning the architects had to work closely with conservation officers and heritage consultants to develop a proposal that would both celebrate the historic significance of the structure and ensure a habitable and commercially viable space for the client.

Lipton Plant won planning approval for the bunker in August 2021. Co-founder Jonny Plant is now a director at Corstophine & Wright following the merger.

Architect’s view

The bunker’s design is completely unique and there are no standard details to deal with such a building. The most challenging part of the design was the detailing, which needed to retain the original internal concrete while also insulating and waterproofing it. In the end, the only option was to completely expose the bunker structure, insulate and waterproof the building from the outside, effectively wrapping it in insulation and waterproofing and then return the earth and replant.

The formation of the large ‘bomb blast’ opening on the south elevation was also a significant challenge. In forming the opening, we wanted to play on the bunker’s history and decided to form a blast opening for the new glazing rather than a simple cut-out. An intricate structural solution was required to support the roof and remaining walls as well as allow the new glazed doors to sit seamlessly in the opening. This structure is now completely concealed.

Despite the physical challenges, the most important thing for us as designers was to tell the story of the bunker. Had we plastered and painted the walls, installed standard fittings and timber floors, all sense of the original building would have been lost. It is imperative that when you stay there, you are aware that you are staying in a bunker, not any other holiday home and that you are experiencing history. I think we have achieved this.
Jonny Plant, director, Corstorphine & Wright


Engineer’s view

Working with the architects on this rare project has been an excellent case study of collaborating on design to bring a unique structure back to life. It was really important that the design solution used the solidity and robustness of the existing structure, revealing and celebrating an important piece of history, while also future-proofing it for the client.
Chris Atkins, founder, Symmetrys


Project data

Start on site Summer 2022
Completion date Spring 2023
Gross internal floor area 60m²
Gross (internal + external) floor area 70m²
Architect Corstorphine & Wright
Client Private
Construction cost Undisclosed
Structural engineer Symmetrys
Quantity surveyor Tim Richards
Main contractor Eastments