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Saturday, June 25, 2022

King of the castle


All hail Astley Castle, winner of this year??s RIBA Stirling Prize


Astley Castle, a groundbreaking modern holiday home inserted into the crumbling walls of an ancient moated castle, in Warwickshire by Witherford Watson Mann Architects has won the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize 2013 for the best building of the year. The RIBA Stirling Prize is now in its 18th year and this is the first time that either a house or a conservation project has won the prize.


Astley Castle is a 12th century fortified manor, which had been lying in ruins since a fire gutted it in 1978.  When the architects came to work on the building it was in a state of collapse and on the Heritage at Risk Register. What has been built is no straightforward restoration, the building had seen additions and revisions carried out in almost every century since Medieval times, so knowing which period to emulate would have been impossible. The architects solution was to stabilise the ruin and create the next layer of the building??s history.  The result is a highly complex and original new house giving the castle??s visitors a truly unique experience.



RIBA President Stephen Hodder commented during the ceremony saying: ?Astley Castle is an exceptional example of how modern architecture can revive an ancient monument.  It is significant because rather than a conventional restoration project, the architects have designed an incredibly powerful contemporary house which is expertly and intricately intertwined with 800 years of history. Every detail has been carefully considered, from a specific brick pattern to the exact angle of a view, resulting in a sensually rich experience for all who visit. This beautiful new building is a real labour of love. It was realised in true collaboration between a visionary client, designer and contractors. I am delighted to present Witherford Watson Mann with the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize.??



This is the first time Witherford Watson Mann has won or been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize. Their previous buildings include the Amnesty International UK headquarters, the Whitechapel Art Gallery extension in London with Robbrecht en Daem, and Arts Council Manchester.


Anna Keay, Director of Landmark Trust, who commissioned Witherford Watson Mann Architects to work on Astley Castle said: ?We are absolutely thrilled with what WWM have achieved at Astley Castle. The Landmark Trust found their approach compelling from the moment they first described it, and their commitment to immaculate quality in execution was truly remarkable??



Astley Castle was chosen by the judges from the following outstanding shortlisted entries: Bishop King Edward Chapel, Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire by Niall McLaughlin Architects; Giant??s Causeway Visitor Centre, Northern Ireland by heneghan peng architects; Newhall Be, Harlow by Alison Brooks Architects; Park Hill Phase 1, Sheffield by Hawkins\Brown with Studio Egret West and University of Limerick Medical School by Grafton Architects.



The judges citation on Astley Castle


The challenge of how to be resolutely of this age while simultaneously embracing the past is one of the most complex problems that architects have had to face throughout architectural history. It is also one that, over the past two centuries, has perhaps caused the most argument. Astley Castle resolves that argument with beauty, intelligence and a rigour that runs through to the smallest of details. There is, of course, great romance to a ruined castle. This, however, can be as much hindrance as help to the architect seeking to give this ruin a future, a highly pragmatic one at that, as a holiday home. Witherford Watson Mann has managed at once to respect the past, to be gentle in its relationship, while simultaneously not being afraid to make its architectural presence felt, and with some force.




It has dealt with Astley??s ruins with intelligence and practicality, while adding to them with a contemporary architecture that is rich, visually beautiful and tactile. The architects have responded intuitively to the site, working with the client throughout the process on a voyage of discovery, to give the castle its new form. The result darns together not only the present and the past, but the head and the heart with a complexity and deftness that is only truly appreciated when within the building itself. This is a building that constantly reveals itself both inside and out. For this we have to thank the client as well as the architect, a client willing to be extremely ambitious in its commissioning. In the end, all great architecture comes down to a conversation, between client and architect, between history and the present.



As the 2014 Royal Gold Medallist, Joseph Rykwert, said of this project, ?there is no comparable recovery of an ancient monument anywhere in this country, and very few elsewhere.?? The question of conservation and finding new uses for buildings whose original function has disappeared is extremely pertinent today, not only because of our economic climate, but because this is a country that wears its past resolutely on its sleeve. History is central to our national identity. This is a clever and robust response to the issue, instead of one that is over cautious or that clashes, inappropriately. So much so that the one upholds the other in every sense. Here history becomes a living, energetic force.


This is the 18th year the RIBA Stirling Prize has been presented. Previous winners of the RIBA Stirling Prize include: Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge by Stanton Williams (2012); Evelyn Grace Academy, London (2011) and MAXXI Museum, Rome (2010) both by Zaha Hadid Architects; Maggie??s Centre at Charing Cross Hospital, London by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (2009); Accordia housing development by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios/Alison Brooks Architects/Maccreanor Lavington (2008); The Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar, Germany by David Chipperfield Architects (2007).


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