The brilliantly renovated Astley Castle, a combination between a 12th century fortified manor and a modern hotel, has won the prestigious 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize for the best new building. Commissioned by British building conservation charity The Landmark Trust, the renovation by London-based Witherford Watson Mann Architects is a Grade II* listed project that weaves together the old and the new to create a powerful blend of history and contemporary architecture. After scooping the 2013 RIBA National Award for the West Midlands region earlier this year, Witherford Watson Mann Architects went on to win the grand prize for the first time.
The Astley Castle, in its present form, fits perfectly into Central England’s landscape of moated manors, medieval gateways, misty lakes and gardens. Its ruin-like façade conceals a contemporary interior that offers stunning views of the medieval stonework of the adjacent church and surrounding countryside.
The building dates from the 12th century, but was almost completely rebuilt in the 1500s by the Gray family. Later destroyed by a fire, it has stood as a ruin since 1978 until six years ago when the Landmark Trust decided to save what was left of the house. The architectural competition for the renovation of the building was won by Witherford Watson Mann Architects. The brief was for a new house which would be inserted into the old one, without significant changes in its appearance.
Instead of trying to patch the old walls, the architects’ interventions are deliberately distinguishable from the existing structure, while still keeping a holistic approach. The introduction of brick and wood helped establish a discreet relationship between the exterior sandstone walls and the addition. The bedrooms and bathrooms are situated on the ground floor and are connected to the communal spaces above via a sculptural central staircase. An open-plan living space offers views over the moated gardens rich with history and lush vegetation.
Speaking at last night’s award ceremony at Central Saint Martins, King’s Cross, London, RIBA President Stephen Hodder said: “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.”