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Portmeirion, Wales

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Playful designs by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in Portmeirion, Wales
Portmeirion, Wales

Portmeirion, Wales

Photo © Jackie Craven

The vacation village of Portmeirion nestles on the northern coast of Wales, but there's nothing Welsh in the flavor of its architecture. No stone cottages here! Instead, the hillside overlooking the bay is dotted with candy-colored houses which suggest sunny Mediterranean landscapes. There are even swaying palm trees around the tinkling fountains.

Portmeirion is riddled with anachronisms. Greek gods mingle with gilded figures of Burmese dancers. Modest stucco bungalows are decked with arcaded porches, balustraded balconies, and Corinthian columns. It's as though the designer tossed 5,000 years of architectural history along the shore, without a care for symmetry, accuracy, or continuity.

Viewers of the popular 1960s television series The Prisoner will find some of the landscapes eerily familiar. The bizarre prison kingdom where actor Patrick McGoohan encountered surreal adventures was, in fact, Portmeirion. In the TV show, the sense of geographical and temporal displacement suggests that this village was created by a madman.

But there was nothing crazy about Portmeirion's designer, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. His lifelong concern was with environmental preservation. By building Portmeirion on his private peninsula in Snowdonia, Wales, Sir Clough hoped to show that architecture can be beautiful and fun... without defacing the landscape. Moreover, Portmeirion became an exercise in historic restoration. Many of the structures were pieced together from buildings destined for demolition. The village became known as a repository for fallen architecture.

Despite these high-minded intentions, however, Portmeirion is, most of all, entertaining. Clough Williams-Ellis was a master of illusion, and his designs confuse, delight... and deceive. How? Take this photo tour to sample a few of Sir Clough's creations.

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