Restored 12th century manor wins Stirling Prize

Astley Manor
© RIBA/ Helen Binet

Two years ago, , Bonnie called the Stirling Prize "the architecture olympics." It is less than that, being restricted to members of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and this year they couldn't even find a sponsor to come up with the prize money. Once again the winner is controversial.

Some have called the winner a restoration of a 12th century fortified manor house, but it it is something completely different, inserting a new building into the old. It could have easily been a complete botch, a few pieces of old stone stuck on the new; instead it is a blend of the two that works. Architects Witherford Watson Mann did it for the Landmark Trust, who take "historic places in danger" and turn them into holiday homes that are rented at comparatively affordable prices. The Stirling Prize description:

In a 12th century fortified manor, further damaged by fire in 1978, the architects have created a new house that allows Landmark Trust guests to experience life in a near thousand-year-old castle with distinctly 21st century mod cons.

Astley Castle demonstrates that working within sensitive historic contexts requires far more than the specialist skills of the conservation architect: this is an important piece of architecture, beautifully detailed and crafted. The decision to put the bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor and the communal spaces above makes the experience of the house very special as perhaps the most impressive spaces are the outdoor Tudor and Jacobean ruins.

The RIBA president calls the project is "an extreme retrofit in many ways. It sends out great messages about conservation." I suspect that a lot of people involved in historic preservation would disagree; there have been many really awful attempts at mixing the new and old. They pull it off here, saving a building that was facing demolition by neglect and giving it a use that provides an income for its continued maintenance. However, the Stirling Prize is supposed to go to "the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year." I am not certain that this actually is a great contribution to the evolution of architectural preservation, keeping little bits of buildings instead of actually restoring. While it seems to work here, it sets a bad precedent.

Designboom did extensive coverage of the project earlier this year.

2013 RIBA Stirling Prize Shortlist: Astley Castle from RIBA on Vimeo.

Restored 12th century manor wins Stirling Prize
A thousand year old castle becomes a holiday house. But is it really restoration or preservation, or something completely different?

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