The Portsmouth Society is very sad to see that a key part of the Portsdown Hill skyline is being demolished.
In its heyday – from the 1950s to the 1970s – over two thousand scientists and technical staff of the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment (ASWE, later renamed ARE) contributed their immense inventive and creative skills to the nation’s defence.
The solidly built Art Deco building – actually a quadrangle with a central courtyard -was a once hive of activity, part of the arc of defence establishments still very much active on Portsmouth’s northern flank.
Defence Estates put the building on the market some years ago, and a Bible College expressed interest. Clearly the best new occupant would have been a large institution – such as a commercial office, residential development, college or university – though its exposed position makes for a chilly microclimate.
We learnt from a visit with Portsmouth Grammar School pupils last year to ASWE as a key part in the story of the defence industry’s shaping of the city’s history in the bid for World Heritage status how important the inventions developed there were.
The northern profile of the hill has been recreated to its original shape using rubble from lesser structures on the site, but leaving the substantial main building empty, deteriorating through lack of maintenance seemed a waste of a substantial opportunity to give it new life. We regret its loss, and the lost opportunity for sustainable reuse.