Astely Castle wins 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize
Text: Florian Maier
This year the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building comes of age and celebrates its 18th year. Six buildings were shortlisted for the prize – on 26 September 2013 the winners were declared at an evening event at Central St Martins in London.
The winner: Astley Castle
Architect: Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Client: The Landmark Trust
Astley Castle sits on a site originally owned by the Astley family in the 12th century, in Nuneaton, north Warwickshire. The sensitive scheme places the new building at the heart of the old, demonstrating creativity, preservation and conservation. 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.
2013 RIBA Stirling Prize Shortlist
University of Limerick
Architect: Grafton Architects
Client: Plassey Campus Developments
The University of Limerick is situated roughly five miles to the east of Limerick City Centre in mid-west Ireland, nestled north and south of the River Shannon. It is not easy to create good architecture on an incredibly tight budget and previous architectural experiments on the Limerick Campus have produced mixed results. However, Grafton Architects have taken an ordinary programme for the student housing and made two muscular buildings that despite their modest size, convey a sense of scale and weight in creating a point of entry to the campus.
Facing the housing accommodation is the medical school, which is cool grey and monolithic, another relatively modest building with a strong presence. The central space of the medical school soars above the entry, rich in timber detailing set against massive concrete expanses, with views up to a study area overlooking the atrium, and further still to bridges and windows on higher levels. This building feels like it punches well above its weight. It transforms simple teaching and study spaces into rich, theatrical spaces, with a generosity that verges on the heroic.
Park Hill, Sheffield
Architect: Hawkins/Brown with Studio Egret West
Client: Urban Splash
The Park Hill development lies just to the east of Sheffield city centre, less than a mile from Sheffield station. Together the two firms of architects have worked with developers Urban Splash to address the contradictory demands of conservation and commerce and to bring back to life an unloved Sheffield landmark. The original aspiration of the late 1950s blocks to resemble an Italian hill village had degenerated into a sorry and threatening place to be – the completed first phase once again gives the people of Sheffield and visitors a building that excites and inspires.
The original ‘streets in the sky’ have been made safe with the addition of new security measures and a metre of space has been added to the width to add to the accommodation. Set back doorways and corner windows also humanise spaces that until now were considered no-go areas. The architects have doubled the amount of glazing, while retaining the character of the original concrete. The insides of split-level apartments have been exposed and walls have been removed to fill them with light. The vibrant coloured panels borrow from the gradated pastel colours of the original brickwork, lending Corbusian vigour to the facades.
Newhall Be, Essex
Architect: Alison Brooks Architects
Client/Contractor: Galliford Try Partnerships/Linden Homes Eastern
Newhall Be is in Harlow, north west Essex, on the borders of Hertfordshire, approximately 30 miles from London. The new town was originally built after World War II to ease overcrowding caused by the Blitz during the war.
The 84-unit Newhall Be scheme demonstrates the added value that good architects can bring to the thorny problem of housing people outside our major cities. ABA have worked with housing developer Galliford Try and persuaded them that investing in quality benefits their bottom line. By halving the size of the gardens – creating roof terraces in total equalling the land ‘lost’ – the architects were able to get an extra six houses on to the development. This paid for extras such as full-height windows, dedicated studies and convertible roof spaces – benefits that don’t feature in standard housebuilders’ products.
The 10.5m x 9.5m plot size for the predominantly courtyard houses is a clever manipulation of internal and external space, incorporating simple yet effective detailing, such as the gentle angling of flank walls and balconies to avoid overlooking. The overall scheme raises the bar for suburban housing developments that, if emulated, could and should have a significant impact on development across the country. This is a fine achievement in its own right. In the context of much of the UK’s new house building it is truly exceptional.
Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre
Architect: heneghan peng architects
Client: The National Trust
The world-famous Giant’s Causeway, some 50-60 million years old, is located on the north-east coast of Northern Ireland in County Antrim, around three miles from the closest town of Bushmills. This elegant, powerful visitor centre appears to be born of its place. The irregular lines of basalt columns grow and recede into the landscape to form the building edges, with the building roof a part of the dramatic landscape. Visitor centres are hard to do. This one serves as shop, café and exhibition without any one function overpowering what is a simple, telling piece of architecture.
Visitor centres are normally self-effacing buildings, fulfilling the needs of visitors while being careful not to draw the limelight away from their main attraction. This one pulls of that difficult trick of being a destination venue in its own right without upstaging the principal event – the centre is invisible from the causeway, which is set one kilometre apart. The internal space is made from a large concrete soffit with slices of roof lights and slots between the basalt allowing natural light deep into the centre.
Bishop Edward King Chapel
Architect: Niall McLaughlin Architects
Client: Ripon College and Community of St John the Baptist
The chapel is situated in the small village of Cuddesdon in rural Oxfordshire, around ten miles from Oxford city centre. Built to serve a theological college and a small religious order of nuns, the chapel defies its diminutive scale to provide an uplifting spiritual space of great potency. This is a materially rich scheme: above an ashlar base the principal material is a cream limestone, hand-broken and laid criss-cross with the raw ends exposed, producing an extraordinarily rich texture. The building is rich in its allusions to architectural history, yet it possesses the power to impact on any passer-by.
A ribbon of high windows floods the chapel and its ambulatory with even light. The delicate timber structure is of blonde wood. This is a church for all seasons and serves equally all the diverse branches of the Anglican Church. Cuddesdon fulfils its complex brief with a lyrical grace.
The 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize judges:
- Sheila O’Donnell – architect, O’Donnell + Tuomey
- Paul Williams – architect, Stanton Williams and winner of the 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize
- Stephen Hodder – architect and RIBA President Elect (commencing 01/09/13)
- Dame Vivien Duffield – philanthropist and Chair of the Clore Duffield Foundation
- Tom Dykchoff – journalist and broadcaster
Together with the Stirling Prize, the RIBA also announced the Lubetkin Prize for the best new international building.