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Witherford Watson Mann Architects is the practice behind the winning design of the 2013 RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling Prize. Announced on 26 September 2013, the prize was selected from a short-list that included the Giant’s Causeway Visiting Centre in Northern Ireland, the University of Limerick Medical School, the Park Hill Phase I in Sheffield, Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxfordshire and new-build homes in Newhall Be in Harlow.
Honoured as ‘the best new building of 2013’, Astley Castle in the Midlands county of Warwickshire is a 12th century fortified manor. Three English queens have at one time called it home: Elizabeth Woodville (1437–1492), Elizabeth of York (1466–1503) and the famously unfortunate Lady Jane Grey (1536–1554). It was the inspiration for no less an author than George Eliot, who used it as the model for Knebley Abbey in Scenes from a Clerical Life.
It was also used as a convalescent home during World War II, but suffered devastating damage from a fire in 1978.
With a key focus on sensitivity, Witherford Watson Mann’s approach is a fine example of how to integrate the new with the old, in the words of the RIBA “demonstrating creativity, preservation and conservation”.
With the Landmark Trust as its client, the practice has created a new house that allows guest to experience life in a near 1000-year-old castle, but with all the comforts and convenience of contemporary life.
Stephen Hodder, RIBA president, 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.”
He added: This beautiful new building is a real labour of love.”
The RIBA Stirling Prize evolved in 1996 from its predecessor the Building of the Year Award, which had been running since 1988 with the winner chosen by the RIBA president from a handful of National Award winners. According to the RIBA website, “This was thought of as neither transparent nor democratic. The aim with the Stirling Prize was that the winner should be decided in an unbiased way, with different juries visiting the ‘midlist’ and short-list.”
The prize was named after the renowned British architect James Stirling, who died in 1992.